Just in with Julie: Keep our minds open

In the last few months, racial tensions have been running high in America due to various protests and demonstrations. There is one man whose name has been buzzing around lately: Richard Spencer.

Spencer is a white supremacist. He is the president of the National Policy Institute, a white supremacist think tank. Spencer gained a lot of national attention when he served as one of the featured speakers at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia this past August. Violence erupted between the white supremacists and the protesters, resulting in a car crash that left a woman dead.

In recent news, Spencer has been traveling across the country to make speeches about his beliefs. One location is only a few hours from John Carroll: University of Cincinnati. UC has come under fire for allowing Spencer to speak on campus. Spencer is a member of the alt-right, a group of people with far-right ideologies that many believe align with neo-Nazism, homophobia, Islamophobia and racism.

An organizer of Spencer’s campus tours sued Ohio State University in federal court on Sunday, Oct. 22 after school officials refused to host Spencer for a speech.

There is an ethical question here. Many people consider the content of Spencer’s speeches to be hateful and discriminatory. Should universities allow Spencer to speak if he shares a message of intolerance? Is it ethical to press charges against Ohio State for refusing to allow Spencer to speak?

John Carroll University encountered a similar problem in 2008 when Chris Simcox spoke on campus. Simcox, co-founder of the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps, called on the public to take up arms and defend America’s border with Mexico. In 2002, Simcox invited readers of his newspaper, the Tombstone Tumbleweed, to “shame the government into doing its job” of controlling America’s southern border. Simcox and other members of his organization have been called “vigilantes” due to their controversial practice of reporting illegal immigrants trying to enter the country. Many feel that immigration enforcement should be left to the U.S. government, not a self-appointed group of citizens.

Following Simcox’s visit to JCU, former University President Rev. Father Robert Niehoff received a lot of feedback on the event. Some people faulted the University for allowing this visit to occur due to Simcox’s intolerant view on immigration. Others claimed that the University must honor its mission by sponsoring open hearings of controversial voices. Still others believed that Carroll’s mission of openness and tolerance requires us to prevent intolerant voices from visiting our campus. In a letter to the JCU community following the event, Niehoff shared the feedback that he received.Niehoff also questioned whether it is the University’s role to list people who cannot visit our campus, and when that act itself becomes intolerant.

It was the right decision for John Carroll to host Simcox in 2008, just as it is the right decision for University of Cincinnati to host Spencer in the upcoming weeks. Sure, these people may not have a popular opinion. They often do not even have a morally grounded opinion. Nonetheless, we must continue to be tolerant of those whose views differ from our own.

Two of America’s most prized freedoms are the freedom of speech and the press. Each individual is allowed to have his or her own thoughts, values and opinions. Just because the majority does not agree does not mean that we are allowed to suppress them.

Furthermore, we can actually learn from these controversial speakers. Spencer, for example, is strongly disliked because he is a white supremacist. Many people do not agree with his views on race. The first step to resolving racial conflicts is to educate yourself about the issues. How can we solve the problems if we don’t know what the leaders of the white supremacy movement are preaching? We have to learn about their ideology in order to build our own argument against it.

So next time you hear about Spencer visiting a college campus, don’t get angry.Take it as an opportunity to learn about a belief system that may be different from your own. Keep an open mind and promote a candid discussion, maybe you and the speaker will even learn from each other.