Tuesday night, at Former Attorney General John Ashcroft’s lecture “Leadership in Challenging Times” Lauren and I stood in line with dozens of Knox students to ask a question of our guest speaker. Unfortunately, time ran out just as we reached the front of the line, and we were, regrettably, unable to speak with the General. However, if we had had the opportunity, this is what we had planned to say:
“Sir, I would like apologize for the behavior of these Knox College students tonight. At an institution that considers itself a liberal, open minded campus with individuals who are seeking to further their knowledge of the world, we have failed to converse in a respectful and dignified manner that reflects our proposed ideals. The outright rudeness of those students who scoff and laugh in the face of differing opinions is an abomination to the name of Knox and to those students who would otherwise have enjoyed a dialogue on important issues. I hope that you will not allow the events of that have transpired this evening to color your regard for Knox; and that in the future we can attempt to prove to you, and to ourselves, that we really have not sunk to the level of immaturity that was displayed during your speech and subsequent question and answer session. Clearly, we have lost the privilege of conversing as adults with dignity and respect for one another. Tonight I am embarrassed to call myself a Knox student.”
As an institution of higher education, Knox should have been excited for the opportunity to engage in a respectful and informed discussion with someone who represents a world view uncommon on this campus. Ashcroft’s presentation could have been a successful forum for asking the hard questions and engaging in critical dialogue. Instead, it was an embarrassing display of dogmatism which accomplished nothing in the way of intelligently advancing our learning experience. While neither of us personally agree with some, or even most, of Ashcroft’s political views, we were impressed with the content and quality of his speech. But no matter our personal beliefs, we recognize that each individual deserves to be treated respectfully – especially an individual who has held such a prominent role in our country. However, even a basic level of respect was remiss throughout the entirety of Ashcroft’s presence. Not only did we notice the blatant lack of propriety during Ashcroft’s prepared speech from members of the audience who felt it was necessary to laugh at inappropriate times and yell insults at our speaker; we were also thoroughly disappointed in the way many questions presented by Knox students were phrased. Your behavior and speech throughout the evening was despicable. Any person holding views contradicting much of the general Knox population would have to have a lot of courage to come speak on this campus. At the very least, that courage should be respected. The way in which Knox students handled the questions and answer portion of the evening failed to show this respect on many occasions and was at times incredibly disruptive to the general dialogue that some students were trying to engage in. The display of outright indecency by Knox was frustrating to say the least.
Additionally, we felt there were a couple of instances when Ashcroft may have used words that triggered negative reactions which he did not intend to trigger. Because of his unfortunate word choice, Knox students ignorantly took the opportunity to insult his knowledge, his wisdom, and even to question if he has a soul. At these times, with only a little reflection, Knox students could have deciphered his intended meaning. However, they chose to close their ears to his message. They allowed their predetermined prejudices to dictate how they interpreted what he said, instead of being open minded (that is the definition of ‘liberal,’ right??) and aware of his true intentions. We cannot stress to you how many times during the course of the evening, we were embarrassed to call ourselves part of the Knox community. To those students who engaged in these inappropriate actions and the offensive articulations of your opinions, which is very uncharacteristic of Knox, I would like to quote a popular movie that faces difficult issues head on, “You Embarrass Me. You Embarrass Yourself.” (Crash).
Our only request to the students of Knox is simple, just shut up and listen. Until you can learn to converse as mature adults, ready to respectfully dialogue with both those who agree and disagree with you, you have no place in the important and difficult conversations that occur on this campus.