At Cal State University, student protesters blocked the doorway to the auditorium to keep conservative columnist Ben Shapiro from speaking. At Emory University, protests broke out because someone wrote “Trump 2016” in chalk on a sidewalk.
As a result, university administrations around the country have appeased their students with “safe spaces” and specially-designated “free speech zones.”
Belmont University does none of these things.
On Tuesday night, the presidents of Belmont’s chapters of College Democrats, College Republicans and Young Americans For Liberty came together for a conversation.
Contrary to what is happening on college campuses around the country, Belmont University Millennials gathered to hear dissenting viewpoints and thoughtful debate.
The moderator of Tuesday’s event, The Tennessean Opinion Engagement Editor David Plazas, asked the presidents to give opening statements.
Jacob Sykes, the president and founder of Belmont’s College Republicans, defined the Republican Party with the belief in limited government and described what he believes to be an inverse relationship between freedom and government.
Silas Deane, the president and founder of College Democrats, described the Democratic Party as one that “represents all of us as a whole.” The Democratic Party, Deane said, is about “working together.”
Jones Kolbinsky, president of the non-partisan, Libertarian-leaning Young Americans For Liberty, told his peers in the audience to understand “the philosophy behind the political party” before voting for it.
All three panelists had the goal of opening up a dialogue. Each stressed that the path to progress isn’t to demonize those with opposing ideas or shut them down, but to love them, understand them and promote a free exchange of ideas.
“Sit down with the people you disagree with,” Sykes said. “It’s easy to say ‘love and peace,’ but it’s hard to have peace with and love those you disagree with.”
Deane agreed with the sentiment of open communication.
“Listen to the other side. Understand the other side. Neither party has all the right answers,” Deane said.
The audience members civilly asked the student panelists questions and were even able to express their own vastly diverse opinions on everything from Hillary Clinton’s email scandal to the media’s sensationalism of Donald Trump.
As Sykes said, if free thought and debate is shut down, “nothing gets accomplished.” After quoting Clinton’s campaign slogan, “Stronger Together,” Deane said that the only way to progress is together.
Sykes pointed out that it’s easy to demonize the people we disagree with, but as he put his arm around his College Democrat adversary and close friend Silas Deane, he said, “It’s about ideas, not bad people.”
Moderator David Plazas closed with a quote by Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Through their respect for opposing opinions, both the audience and the panelists understood what Mead had to say.
All three presidents acknowledged said true progress begins with a conversation. The only way to get closer to the truth is not to stifle dissent, but to encourage it— to encourage controversy, to question the status quo, to break social barriers and to challenge the consensus.
This article was written by Reed Ferguson.