Discourse / Letters / May 1, 2008

Letters to the Editor: April 25 – May 1, 2008

I am writing to commend Chris Berger, Devin Day, Melinda Jones and Lauren Peretz for setting a standard of common decency for the Knox Community with their condemnatory critiques of the peaceful protesters at John Ashcroft’s lecture. Somehow I managed to miss the memo about them being put in charge of what forms of protest are appropriate for the entire Knox Community, and frankly I would like a copy so that I can thank the supreme being who appointed them. The line they have drawn for themselves, in terms of what is acceptable, rude, appropriate, embarrassing, or shameful is a line that all, at Knox College, must unquestionably stand behind. They are the purveyors of what is acceptable behavior, not only for themselves but for everyone (you know, because of their appointment and all). Those who protested may think they behaved in ways that were appropriate, and did not cross the lines of decency and appropriate behavior that they have developed for themselves, but in fact, they crossed other peoples’ personal lines! Knox is not a place where we should be allowed to think for ourselves, decide what is appropriate for our community and ourselves, and then act on that. Rather, it is a place where we should get in line, file through, and listen to those who undeniably know better than us as to what is right for our bodies.

Angela Bailey, ’08

I would like to respond to a few of the letters and columns printed in the April 24th issue criticizing the actions of the black-hooded protesters at the John Ashcroft event. I decided to participate in this particular action because I support the concept of public protest in a broad sense. I believe that it is important to express dissenting opinions. I also enjoy making a statement through performance.

For these reasons, when I was invited to join the demonstration, I readily agreed. I do not regret this decision. I am not embarrassed by my actions. It was not easy to stand there and be taunted. Nor is it easy now to be told by my peers that I should be ashamed of myself. But I stand by the use of this mode of expression. While I wish its message could have been clearer, in the end that is not really the point. I cannot speak for the organizers of the demonstration, but for me the point was to visibly and symbolically oppose an ideology I disagree with.

However, not all forms of protest that occurred that night were productive. It is important to remember that each individual’s actions should not be lumped together. Multiple tactics were carried out independently. While I may not agree with all of the methods that different groups and individuals employed, I support their right to use them. Above all, we must not forget for many of us, that the situation called for protest. In that sense, I think we did the right thing.

Rachel Bernkopf, ’08

Five years ago, I was conservative. I was unconvinced of the arguments for gay marriage, and was fiercely for the war in Afghanistan. When I came to Knox, in the fall of 2003, I found that while many students were liberal, some were conservative, but there were many of us that hadn’t yet decided on our views. We were young, 18, 19 years old, straight out of our parents’ houses, and we were trying different things and being exposed to a wide range of ideas.

Soon enough after arriving in Galesburg, I realized that I couldn’t just take my parents’ beliefs for my own. I had to do my own thinking; your political views are somewhat personal. They are formed by your parents, your friends, your beliefs, and your experiences as I learned at Knox. When I volunteered in New Orleans in the spring of 2006, during my junior year, my experiences there transformed my political ideas, my beliefs and myself. I had been shaken to my core. I realized that I didn’t have any ideas about how this country works. This is when my Knox education “kicked in” and I didn’t just take someone’s word for it; I learned to open my eyes and my ears and think for myself and no one else. So I spent more time reading and researching post-Katrina New Orleans and found myself down here shortly after my graduation. Here is where I’m still educating myself in the way we all love: the Knox way.

What has made me upset is the group of students who limited others’ abilities to take in information and come to their own conclusions. I believe that discourse is absolutely necessary; it’s an intrinsic part of education. But please leave the mudslinging to Hillary and Barack; although I’m sure that Ashcroft deserved to get a little muddy. There are so many ways to challenge ideas and actions, and I stand up and applaud those students who directly asked Mr. Ashcroft questions. Protesting does make progress, but so do new and different ideas. This lack of willingness to listen (on both sides of the aisle) hurts us. If you can’t involve undecided students in the discourse, you might be missing out on new opinions. It’s not about being polite, or being silent while someone refuses to answer a question, it’s about letting everyone have a chance to make their own decision, which I fear did not occur. I think Ashcroft’s actions during the debate spoke for themselves, but to those Knox students who disrupted the speech with intensely personal attacks, I fear that you may have convinced those “undecided” students to keep their political beliefs to themselves and never ask questions or participate in a discourse again.

-Sara Eldridge, ’07

I am truly disheartened to hear that some members of our community have chosen to use the tools of threat and intimidation to marginalize individuals with differing points of view. For me, the main discourse against John Ashcroft is over the fact that he and the administration he worked for have chosen to marginalize a group of people by denying them liberty and the due process of law, and for those who claim to stand against this kind of injustice, to in turn marginalize someone is a travesty. I hang my head in shame knowing that fellow students have perpetrated this kind violence and aggression not only on fellow human beings, but also on fellow students. I hope other students will join me, and pledge to stand up and condemn this kind of behavior. As Martin Luther King Jr. wrote from his Birmingham Jail cell, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

-Marty Helms

As anyone following the anonymous poster debate can attest, there has been much discussion on campus recently about what characterizes civil discourse. Some believe that anonymous posters do not; their authors do not sign their names to their opinions, and some argue that this prevents productive debate.

To me, the protesters who stood during John Ashcroft’s speech, and those who asked tough questions (the vast majority, in my opinion) were exemplifying what should be productive debate by any standard. These protesters and speakers took a risk. In effect, they signed their names to their opinions, and they were derided for it. To hear Ashcroft, and then many in the April 24th edition of the paper, say that these people, too, were participating in uncivil discourse was a shock. What is civil discourse, then? To protest outside? If protest doesn’t confront its object, it is neutered. Not to demand answers? If protest doesn’t demand recognition, what’s the point?

No one prevented John Ashcroft from speaking but John Ashcroft, who interrupted his own speech to call the protesters childish. As the former Attorney General, Ashcroft should be accustomed to keeping his composure in environments like the Supreme Court, far more challenging than the one Knox provided. The inability to do so suggests to me that his convictions are ill-examined. Of course we can blame John Ashcroft for being defensive, aren’t we all accountable for our actions?

I’m saddened to think that civil discourse on this campus requires us to be passive recipients. And to those who apologized on behalf of the Knox community for the actions of the protesters: Please speak only for yourselves. I am not, and will never be, embarrassed by protest of this sort.

Alice Holbrook, ‘08

As an alumna of Knox College (Class of 1962), I have continued to marvel at the impressive speakers that the college continues to attract. Indeed, this speaks very highly of our school. However, regarding this year’s commencement speaker, Secretary Madeleine Albright, of whom I was previously an ardent admirer, I would be remiss if I did not express my grave disappointment in her selection as speaker and honorary degree recipient.

Secretary Albright has spoken out vehemently and continuously against genocide and is serving as the co-chair of a high-level Genocide Prevention Task Force jointly sponsored by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the American Academy of Diplomacy, and the United States Institute of Peace. Yet, two months before announcing her role in this noble new task force, she sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi opposing Congressional consideration of the Armenian Genocide Resolution (H.Res.106) which belatedly seeks to honor the historically validated record of the 1915 Armenian Genocide, in which 1.5 million Armenian citizens of the Ottoman Empire were killed as part of a state-sponsored genocide. My mother was one of the courageous few survivors, thus, the Secretary’s decision to bow to pressure from the denialist position of the modern Turkish republic — a vital NATO ally — smacks not only of hypocrisy but blatant revisionism, and, for this reason, I cannot support her selection as commencement speaker and honorary degree recipient.

I hope that Knox students, faculty, and administration will echo my concerns and challenge Secretary Albright on her unconscionable double standard of advocating political expediency over historical truth.

Zabelle Norsigian Vartanian, ’62

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