How many times have you walked through the Plaza between the student center and library and been bombarded by religious or otherwise intolerant views being shouted in your ear or displayed for half the school to see? After all, one of the main purposes of the Plaza is as a free-speech forum, but don’t you think that free speech would go a lot further if it wasn’t done in a way that, sometimes quite obviously, gives people a bad impression of the point trying to be expressed?
Of course, removing free speech from the Plaza is an idea that would be met with extreme conflict, especially since it allows for so many positive views to be expressed. For example, environmentalists, people supporting campaign issues and basically anybody else with an opinion and a cause often use the Plaza as a venue to raise money, raise awareness or simply try to get their point heard. The main difference, however, is that most of these people address you with a polite smile or friendly hello, and for the most part end the conversation with “have a nice day” if you display no interest.
Then you have the opposite end of the spectrum. The men and women you come across that tell you you’re going to hell, that you’re a homosexual or even go as far as displaying pictures of dead fetuses large enough to make it impossible not to catch them with a glance. These are the people who, while fun to watch students react to, are primarily tarnishing the public view of their causes.
It is extremely important that we, as young people, are subject to a diverse blend of views and opinions, but it is even more important that these views and opinions are given to us in the form of choices to make for ourselves as we see fit. Is it wrong to be opinionated and try to share your opinions with others? Not by any means. However, it is wrong to force your ideas on others in ways that many people don’t want to see or hear without listening to the opinions that are offered back.
In the past week I saw something new on the Plaza that impressed me. I’m sure most of you noticed, or even listened to, the pastor with the microphone. From what I saw, he was openly accepting questions and offering answers to the best of his abilities. Whether people agreed with him or not, he was certainly not answered with the yelling and hostility that is commonly, and usually comically, given to another man who happens to wear a bright yellow sign and camouflage hat. This is because he was listening to people’s concerns and paying attention to their criticism. While the opinions of others had no swaying effects on his own beliefs, he was still listening.
This man made me realize that the most effective way of getting people to listen to what you have to say is not by bombarding their senses with hateful words or disgusting images, but by offering an opinion politely and leaving them to decide how they feel about the issue. In my opinion, if everyone who shouted their beliefs in the Plaza stuck to this, there would be a lot more students opening up their minds to new ideas.
Kaitlin Snook is a junior technical journalism major. Her column appears Fridays in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.