posted on: Thursday February 27, 2014
by Matthew F. Thornton ’12, ’14G
To the Providence College community: I am growing concerned with the direction our College is heading regarding freedom of thought and discussion. Just in the last year, we have had three large controversies regarding guest lecturers on this campus.
The first, in the spring of 2013, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s planned visit stirred the community in a debate about allowing a lecturer who held beliefs against the Catholic Church on campus. After much debate, the decision was made to allow Mr. Whitehouse to give his lecture.
The second, in thefall of 2013, occurred with the debate surrounding Dr. John Corvino’s planned talk on “The Meaning of (Gay) Marriage.” A flurry of controversy swept the school following the cancellation (and later re-scheduling) of the lecture-turned-debate.
The third has just occurred, and prompted the authoring of this article. Dr. Michelle Cretella planned to give a lecture entitled “Who Am I? Psychology, Faith, and Same-Sex Attraction.” As of the writing of this article, the lecture has been cancelled, and I have not heard of a plan to re-schedule or re-format (as with Dr. Corvino). Even if this occurs, I will stand by the argument I am about to put forth.
Providence College, I am worried with how we are handling these controversies. The purpose of an academic institution is to learn. Our motto is Veritas, truth. Every member of the PC community shares in this noble goal, be it personal truth, scientific truth, or philosophical truth. But our only hope to find this truth is through the exchanging of ideas. Even ideas which may anger us, or scare us, or cause us to feel uncomfortable. We must address those with whom we disagree with respectful debate, not censorship and outrage. We must allow both ideological opponents and allies to speak with an equal voice. It is up to us to determine if an argument holds weight.
I have heard that people feel unsafe or unwelcome on this campus. This should be our highest priority to address as a community. We are heading down a path toward a divided campus. But the solution to erasing this divide is through honest, respectful, discussion. Outrage and censorship, on either side of controversial issues, only leads to more anger, and the dehumanizing of our opponents only leads to further division.
Providence, let’s not let another Whitehouse, Corvino, or Cretella controversy happen again. I urge everyone to welcome guests to our campus, even if we disagree with their beliefs, or feel threatened by their arguments. Let’s counter opposing beliefs with respectful debate. This doesn’t mean every presentation should be in a debate format. Rather, let us ensure that anyone who wishes to speak feels welcome, and any planned response is also welcome. Let’s not become a campus of closed thought. As Captain Jean-Luc Picard once said, “With the first link, the chain is forged. The first speech censored, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably.”