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ISSUE 118 VOL 17 PUBLISHED 4/22/2005

Crowd response unwarranted

By Seth Heringer
Contributing Writer

Friday, April 22, 2005

After attending Ann Coulter’s speech on Sunday evening, I am saddened and ashamed.

I am saddened that Coulter did not use her platform to bring well-reasoned conservative arguments to a campus that has been having prolonged discussions on the need for intellectual diversity and instead chose to fill her speech with caustic one-liners that made little sense to her audience.

Especially disheartening was her comment about sending a student’s name to John Ashcroft because of his ethnic origin. This type of speech is incendiary, completely without redeeming quality and I am disappointed that Ann does not understand that.

I am ashamed, on the other hand, of the behavior of a disruptive and vocal section of the crowd that evening.

While Coulter is responsible for the language and content of her message, St. Olaf students are responsible for their behavior and treatment of an invited guest of the college.

From the defacing of publicity posters to the inflammatory “slut!” being yelled from the back of the auditorium – even before Coulter had spoken a word – people were full of anger. This raw anger was expressed when the question and answer session turned mainly into political diatribes against Coulter rather than interesting and intelligent questions.

Students unwilling to sit and listen intently and respectfully to someone with whom they disagree reflects poorly on St. Olaf, its professors and its students.

The events of Sunday night should cause much soul searching among both our students and professors. Our professors should continue to emphasize to students the importance of controlling their passions in an argument for the sake of being coherent, respected and intellectually rigorous.

They must also work even harder to promote a variety of opinions in their classrooms and let students interact with arguments that are assured to provoke some of them to anger.

We all agree that if only one ideology is continually presented well to a classroom, students do not learn how to reason, to control their tempers and to think for themselves.

Our students should question whether they are doing their part to prepare themselves to argue properly by asking professors hard questions and demanding that their beliefs be challenged.

The adolescent behavior exhibited by some students in response to comments by Coulter makes me worry that this is happening far less than it should. We also need to control the tone of our political conversations and promote civil disagreement among students.

Hate, anger and name-calling only stifle political discourse, weakening the St. Olaf community and the education it strives to provide.

It is sad that such a great opportunity for political dialogue was marred by cynicism and anger. During this time of political polarization, the behavior exhibited Sunday night was not surprising.

I was hoping, however, for more from St. Olaf. It is time for us to live up to our own ideals and learn how to respectfully express our disagreements.

If students here and across the country do not begin setting a new tone in political discussions, Sunday will be a foreshadowing of the politics of our generation. I hope and pray that this will not be the case.

Student Government Association president Seth Heringer is a senior from Bismarck, N.D. He majors in classics, religion and philosophy.

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