If you’re getting a bit too cheery this Monday (unlikely as that may be), please allow me to dampen your spirits with this letter from an anonymous student to The DePaulia, DePaul University’s student newspaper, about his or her vandalism of a pro-life display on campus. (It’s a big story—if you don’t know what I am talking about, take a quick look.)
I am going to go through the whole thing because it is such a severe example of “unlearning liberty” that there’s an illustration of it in nearly every thought expressed. Let’s start:
As I was walking to class and passing through the quad on whatever day [Tuesday, Jan. 22 — Ed.] this display was up, I saw hundreds of blue and pink flags. I knew that that day was the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, but if I hadn’t previously known that (and it was in no way through the university or any university-affiliated group that I knew this), I would have had absolutely no idea what these flags were for. I took three of the flags down from their display and took them home. I was in no way a part of the incident that took place later that day, where students took down all the flags and threw them away. This is my opinion and thought process regarding what I did, but I was not a part of the bigger incident with the display.
This student’s thought process was “Hey, look, a display on campus that advocates an idea I disagree with. I will now engage in some petty vandalism in order to mutely express my disagreement.” While you’d think I’d be steeled against this stuff by now, I am still horrified that a person who is apparently qualified to attend a university would think that petty crime is a reasonable response when faced with an idea he or she doesn’t like.
DePaul, or so I’ve been told, is a place accepting of ALL views. They do that by providing a platform for all groups and people of differing viewpoints to share their ideas.
Like the opportunity to set up a display on campus, right?
But they give people an option, and this is imperative. You have the option of going to this club’s meeting, or contributing your time or money to a cause, or talking to the guy on the corner and signing his petition. You don’t walk into the Student Center and see signs saying, “God is real and he’s a Catholic,” or “support gay marriage or you’re as bad as racists,” or “gay marriage is the devil.” That doesn’t happen.
I would be inclined to take the student’s word for this, but if you look around on campus a bit, you might see something that tends to indicate that at least a few people at a university named after St. Vincent de Paul and run by the Catholic Vincentian order think that God is real and Catholicism is true. It is not as though the written or symbolic communication of ideas isn’t part of the DePaul landscape.
You see signs inviting you to come to a meeting, to hear what a group believes and has to say and inviting you to participate in discussion. It’s an invitation, not an order. Those flags were an order.
Er, what? Did they have words from administrators written on them or something? Nope.
There was no choice, no invitation to discuss, no explanation of their meaning or the beliefs behind them. It’s not like you were talking to members of this group … they weren’t behind a table, they weren’t there on the corner asking to explain something to you. They set up a display on the most open and iconic part of campus, claiming their territory in an authoritative and unfair way.
True, the students weren’t hanging around to “explain something to you.” They had put up the display flags and relied upon their symbolic significance (each flag was meant to represent some number of abortions) to carry the message. This is not an unusual way of communicating a message. As for “claiming their territory in an authoritative and unfair way,” YAF by all accounts followed all the rules for erecting its display. Those opposed to its message were presumably free to do the same thing on other available space or on another day (if this isn’t true, by the way, such students should contact FIRE).
Allowing such a display without giving viewers a choice is wrong.
This is like complaining that there’s no memorial to the Japanese defenders of Iwo Jima next to the monument celebrating its fall to the U.S. Marines. Or perhaps he is saying that YAF should have erected a giant fence around the area saying “Warning: Pink and Blue Flags Inside”?
And the insinuation that DePaul supports a similar view is, I think, unfair and doesn’t adhere with the “Vincentian principles” that everyone here loons about. DePaul is supposed to give you a choice.
“Loons about”? At this point, the DePaul administrators reading this letter must be cringing. Also, I have to again ask, are we talking about a giant fence, here? It is not the job of a university to slap warning signs on any expression that might offend someone, somewhere. That would make it impossible to function as a university, where you are supposed to be confronted with differing ideas.
Those flags proclaim that there is only one right way to think, and that DePaul, despite their feigned neutrality, agrees with them.
I want a university that generates discussion, not a blind acceptance of what is put right in front of you.
This statement is contradicted by the evidence. Did this student “blindly accept” the flags? No, he or she disagreed and even vandalized them. Why, then, this assumption that others would blindly accept the message?
The very basic ideas of “university” and schooling adhere with that. Aristotle, Plato, the greatest philosophers and thinkers of the world all questioned and debated issues and preconceived ideas. They wouldn’t accept blindly one way of thought. This idea, of fostering personal beliefs and the ability to express and argue them, is at the root of education! It’s in DePaul’s mission statement!
Yes, expressing and arguing about ideas and beliefs are at the root of education. Yet the student is writing this letter in order to complain about someone doing exactly that. The display obviously did foster debate and discussion on campus. It accomplished its goal. What exactly is bad about that?
“On the personal level, DePaul respects the religiously pluralistic composition of its members and endorses the interplay of diverse value systems beneficial to intellectual inquiry. Academic freedom is guaranteed both as an integral part of the university’s scholarly and religious heritage, and as an essential condition of effective inquiry and instruction.” (Taken directly from the University Mission Statement: mission.depaul.edu).
DePaul’s record on campus freedom is actually lousy, but we get the message.
This flag display offered no choice,
But it did. You could have looked in the other direction. Or, more importantly, ignored it, as we all constantly do with messages we don’t like.
and even more importantly, no opportunity for discussion.
It is true that students are not obligated to hang around in order to talk vandals out of vandalizing their stuff. This is not a bad thing.
Maybe what I did was wrong, but it created that discussion.
It was wrong. And it should be creating a discussion with the police, as it did for the folks who got caught. As for the discussion you say your vandalism created, please note that that would have been impossible without the original display—the display you argue should not have existed.
And I believe that is right in line with the mission of DePaul and education in general.
That is horrifying if true.
An anonymous advocate of DePaul’s mission and Vincentian principles.
This is hard to believe, given that earlier in the letter the writer implies that those who discuss these principles are “loony.”
In his book, Greg argues that, thanks to the university system’s contempt for the principles of liberty, students are increasingly coming to see censorship of “bad ideas” as a noble cause and an activity that all right-thinking people should participate in and support. Letters like this make it awfully hard to argue that he’s wrong.