Natalie Kahler’s love for Grove City College prompted her to lead the newly formed Grove City Alumni for Freedom.
For Natalie, Grove City isn’t just a college. It’s a family tradition. She met her husband there and was happy when her daughter chose to attend Grove City and continue the family tradition. Family connections at the Christian liberal arts college run deep, with eight graduates spanning three generations. However, she’s recently become concerned about the trajectory of the institution. She’s noticed a rise in fear of differing opinions both on campus and in the broader culture. Especially given Grove City’s decision to censor discussions of critical race theory in 2022, Natalie worries that when certain topics are off limits for debate, people become intellectually lazy.
According to Natalie, “There is an arrogance that develops in organizations that isolate themselves from people who disagree with them. That arrogance leads to intellectual laziness because there is no need to wrestle with — or even explain — your position.”
The Grove City that Natalie attended was not characterized by isolation and intellectual laziness. She remembers regularly debating theological issues with professors and students over lunch.
“Participants not only learned the arguments of their opponents, we realized others could disagree with us and still be the same godly roommate or distinguished professor we thought they were,” Natalie recalls.
Since attempts to cancel professors, speakers, and administrators over critical race theory proliferated inside and outside of the Grove City community last year, Natalie wants to offer students at her alma mater opportunities to learn about civil discourse and to learn to dialogue on sensitive issues with those with whom they disagree. That’s what inspired her efforts to help create Grove City’s Alumni for Freedom group.
One action Natalie believes the administration could take to encourage the practice of free speech in the community would be to adopt the Chicago Statement, or a similarly strong commitment to free speech and academic freedom like the one adopted by King University, another Christian liberal arts college. (The Chicago Statement is a model free speech policy statement that over 90 universities have adopted, affirming their commitment to free expression.) She believes this kind of free speech protection would encourage the Grove City community to recognize “the value of having all voices in the conversation, even when it makes us uncomfortable.”
Ultimately, Natalie identifies the crisis Grove City faces as a crisis of fear. Free speech opponents are afraid that certain ideas will undermine the religious identity of the college or that the presence of progressive ideas will cause the Christian institution to abandon its historically conservative identity
But those concerns don’t worry Natalie as much as the prospect of open inquiry and debate going to the wayside. She has confidence in Grove City students and faculty’s ability to “take those ideas and examine them through the lens of Scripture to determine their value.” In other words, Natalie believes Grove City students are well-equipped to assess the truth or falsity of arguments and don’t need to be insulated from opposing viewpoints.
FIRE is proud to work with alumni like Natalie and the Grove City Alumni for Freedom in their efforts to bring free speech culture to every college campus nationwide. We’ve seen alumni activism make a real difference in how students understand their free speech rights. Alumni leaders have spoken before a congressional free speech roundtable, hosted speakers to educate the campus on free expression, and brought discussion on free expression to freshman orientation.
For more information about alumni activism, visit FIRE’s alumni page which includes action items for alumni to reform their alma maters, a newsletter sign up to stay up-to-date on alumni activism, and information about starting your own alumni group.