An upcoming conference organized by Stanford University’s Anscombe Society called “Communicating Values: Marriage, Family & the Media” has been dubbed “hate speech” by the college’s graduate-level student government, which refused to allow any of its student fee-funded budget to support the event.
The situation has generated a lot of debate and concern about the state of academic freedom, the First Amendment and intellectual diversity at one of the nation’s top universities.
In an eloquently written column published Wednesday, Dr. Jennifer Bryson added her thoughts to the controversy.
She earned her bachelor’s degree from Stanford University in 1989, and today is director of the Islam and Civil Society Project at the Witherspoon Institute. She writes in The Public Discourse that “trying to silence others because one fears what they might say is no way to learn. And it is no way for a university to be a university.”
Bryson was a senior at the university when a pro-life guest speaker was shouted down, his microphone literally taken away from him by an angry crowd of students. Administrators later met with the pro-life students and said they wanted to ensure that security was there for future controversial speakers, because they did not want that to happen again.
As for the current controversy:
Regarding her opposition to the upcoming Anscombe Society conference, Stanford undergraduate Brianne Huntsman said, “A lot of students who are queer come to Stanford because it’s one of the most LGBT-friendly places in the world.”
While this may be one factor in their decision to attend Stanford, the primary reason for students to attend Stanford should be to pursue an education. Stanford is, at its essence, a university. It is not a club. It is not a support group. The mission of Stanford is not to provide a comforting environment for those who have the fortune of spending time there.
Rather, as a University, Stanford should challenge students to grow, to explore, to seek what is true, to pursue excellence, and to develop capacities that will enable them to serve the welfare of society and human flourishing. … the university does not owe anyone an emotionally or intellectually comfortable environment. Stanford is, after all, part of the real world.
As a pro-life woman at Stanford, I never experienced Stanford as a “friendly” place, and in many ways I did not experience it to be a “safe” place.
Yet instead of trying to get Stanford to silence anyone who opposed me, I felt the best response to this was to seek to become better informed and to take part in public activism to help foster an overarching culture in which women, though they may not be treated in a “friendly” way, could at least feel safe. …
Had Stanford silenced those who opposed me, because those who opposed me were “unfriendly” to me (and some of them were literally unfriendly to me), the university would have failed in its role as a university. I think the protestors who silenced (pro-life speaker) Randall Terry, rather than listening to what he had to say, failed in this instance in their role as students.
Today, as the Anscombe Society’s conference approaches, Stanford risks a rerun of this twenty-five year-old debacle. The stakes are high, implicating not only this one university, but also our society as a whole, in which tensions over issues of marriage and sex run very high.
The Anscombe Society has invited speakers who seek to address these issues in a thoughtful, civil manner. Listening in a correspondingly thoughtful and civil manner, regardless of one’s views, will accomplish far more to build a culture in which we can live peacefully together than would any effort to silence the Anscombe Society and their invited guests. Mutual understanding is not the same thing as mutual agreement.
Agreement is an unlikely outcome of the conference, but let us at least seek to understand each other. Only on a foundation of understanding can we seek a way to move forward, learning to live peacefully and respectfully with our differences. Trying to silence others because one fears what they might say is no way to learn. And it is no way for a university to be a university. Instead, let the winds of freedom blow.