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The threat of unapologetic opinions to campus dialog

Last week Alex Higgin-Houser’s viewpoint, “An Unapologetic Endorsement of Jinai Bharucha for CSA Vice-President” painted an unjustifiably negative picture of CSA Senate Vice-Presidential candidate Robert Stephens. While the egregious editorial error in publishing the letter is frustrating, Alex’s choice, to write a Viewpoint article with so little knowledge of the candidate, reflects a larger problem that this community must confront.

Admitting that he had never spoken to Robert, nor personally witnessed much of the un-Carleton-like behavior he asserts, Alex was still compelled to present his views. Alex has repeatedly said that his letter was in response to allegations that his friend Jinai Bharucha was facing religious discrimination through an E-mail Robert sent to leaders of the Christian community.

Alex is entitled to this initial perception, but passionately and publicly expressing his impressions without any attempt to contextualize and better understand Robert’s motives and actions, is a disturbing act of ignorance that cannot be taken lightly on our campus.

In the letter, Alex characterized the e-mail Robert sent to leaders of the Christian community as “blatant pandering.” Alex wrote, “One telling example [of Robert’s less than dignified campaign] is his emails to the perceived leaders of the Christian community, rife with bible verses, assuring the recipients that he is a sympathetic ear to those who may face religious discrimination on campus—not only is it patronizing, but what is he implying about Jinai?”

Alex admitted later that he did not even read the E-mail until two days after his letter was published. The fact that a reasonable, reflective human being would affirmatively characterize an E-mail as “blatant pandering,” without even reading the E-mail, let alone speaking with the author, is disturbing.

Having had reservations about the E-mail myself, Robert explained very clearly that he was speaking to a group with which he had worked in the past, and the quotation of a single Bible verse in message was consistent with his religious tradition. Robert was making a statement about the importance of faith in his life, and in no way did he intend to mischaracterize Jinai. What Alex framed to the greater Carleton community as a political tactic, was the result of an obvious misunderstanding of Robert’s religious tradition and intent. Instead of impulsively writing a Viewpoint article, with the purpose of publicly discrediting a fellow student’s character, Alex (or any other concerned student) should have asked for a five-minute meeting with Robert where he could explain himself. It’s appalling that Robert was not given this common courtesy before he was forced to suddenly, publicly defend himself.

In a community that has just faced a campus climate survey that specifically stressed the importance of individual dialog to find mutual understanding, the Viewpoint is particularly infuriating. We need to recognize that Alex’s Viewpoint is a specific artifact that exemplifies what is wrong with dialog on this campus.

Since the letter was published, those of us with direct experience with Robert’s unparalleled integrity and outstanding character cannot help but tirelessly defend his good name against a maliciously unsupported attack.

Before we, as a community, can ever embrace the notion that Carleton is an inclusive, respectful institution, we need to recognize that uninformed, unapologetic opinions are poisonous to our campus climate.

-Ben Blink is a third-year student.

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