Op-Ed: A call for respectful dialogue

Wednesday, October 5, 2016 - 10:04pm

Our student body comprises people coming from around the world representing several races, genders, ages, religions, sexual orientations, national origins and veteran statuses. We hail from densely populated metropolitan areas, sparsely populated rural farmlands and everywhere in between. One thing that we all have in common, however, is we all chose to attend the University of Michigan.

But what does that really mean? It means that by choosing to attend a top-tier university, we elected to challenge ourselves. Of our own free will, we placed the burden of expectation on our shoulders. And it means that each one of us is part of a rich and storied history spanning over the course of almost 200 years.

Thursday, the University will unveil the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategic Plan, which was initiated by University President Mark Schlissel last year. Recent events on campus have led to many asking what “diversity, equity and inclusion” actually entails. While the focus in the days ahead will be on the University’s responsibilities to ensure these objectives are met, students must also examine their roles in building a strong community on campus.

As stated before, there are many varying paths that can lead to earning the title of Wolverine. Each of us has a unique background with experiences that have shaped our worldviews. We develop our morals and values from these perspectives, which, in turn, form our opinions on individual matters. Obviously, at a campus with more than 43,000 undergraduate and graduate students, we represent a wide range of opinions on each issue. Right now, that is something we are allowing to divide us — but it should be our greatest strength.

Respect for diversity of thought has been at the cornerstone of higher learning since Plato founded the Academy 2,400 years ago. This long-standing belief needs to be at the forefront of the University’s initiative. More importantly, it’s our duty as students to live this value. Whether it be in the classroom, at a formal event or during an impromptu conversation on the Diag, we will be presented with thoughts and ideas different from our own. We need to cherish these moments because they are the opportunities for learning and personal growth. Having a diverse student population is meaningless if we don’t listen to one another.

Civil discourse is the means to gain a deeper understanding of the world around us. This entails willingness to listen to thoughts and opinions other than your own. It includes providing a thoughtful and respectful rebuttal. Most importantly, it demands we recognize that people with whom we disagree are entitled to their own opinions.

This last aspect seems to be the most difficult for students on campus. It has been implied several times recently that someone who hasn’t experienced something shouldn’t be able to speak about it. If this is the standard which we use to grant people the right to express opinions on issues, then no one who is not a naturalized citizen should get to speak about immigration, no one who has not reached the age of 66 should have a voice about Social Security and no one except combat veterans should be allowed to discuss war policy.

Sadly, instead of working to build better communication on campus, we seem to be intent on creating division. In recent days, we have an unknown party posting incendiary and racist fliers on campus. These events are disgusting, and below our standards as Wolverines. However, in response, we cannot allow ourselves to be divided further. Rather than shutting out alternative viewpoints and opinions, we should cherish diversity of thought as critical to our University, much as we do diversity of background and experience. We are disappointed that our recent debate, which was based in this spirit of diversity of thought, has been so strongly condemned by other organizations, including Central Student Government. As our Michigan community works to build a better society in the future, we need to have greater respect for this critical value.

We do not have to wait for the University to take action. We can live up to the title of Leaders and the Best and begin on our own. Surround yourself with people of different backgrounds, ideologies and opinions. Listen to what they have to say and share with them your thoughts and experiences. Remember that it’s perfectly acceptable for us to disagree. Each one of us has the ability to help build a better and stronger campus community and it is time that we begin.

By putting our name to this letter, we, as members of the Executive Board for the Michigan Political Union, are declaring our commitment to ensuring that all students at this University will have a forum for their thoughts and opinions to be presented and challenged in a respectful manner.

Signed,

Joshua Strup, President

Greg Graham, Vice President

Carlos Owens, Speaker of the Union

William Presley, Director of External Affairs

Allison Hellman, Party Leader of the Left

Luke Zimmerman, Party Leader of the Independents

Jake Roodvoets, Party Leader of the Right