Walking the fine line: students should listen and learn from each other in group settings


Welcome, Class of 2025! Welcome, transfer students! Welcome not only to The College of William and Mary, but also to the Flat Hat Opinions section! Here, in our library of student-submitted opinions, you can expect a weekly variety of the hottest takes, involving everything from the candy cane facade outside Earl Gregg Swem Library to the absence of campus fire pits during the winter months. You will also find more serious topics, such as the excellent ten-week series on reparations sponsored by Student Assembly, or an open letter regarding the protection of modern language faculty positions. Truly, ours is a forum where students and other members of the community can express their opinions and invite others to honest discussion. 

But first, I ought to let you in on a secret. Whether in the Opinions pages or in your everyday life at the College, you will find people who view the world differently than yourself. Actually, perhaps it is not such a secret. After all, many people at the College are, if anything, quite passionate about their views. Nevertheless, it can be disheartening to find how inadequately equipped many students are to constructively handle such differences of opinion upon their arrival at the College. 

Now, I know that the yearning for civil discourse is sometimes hijacked by those who simply seek to justify their own bigoted positions. While it is without question that such people have the constitutional right to freely express their ideas — short of calls for violence — I will be frank and state that not all ideas are created equal. To borrow a phrase from author John Green, ideas which attack not what their opponents believe but rather who they are do not deserve equal standing with others. Furthermore, as has been previously stated within this section, the First Amendment protects your speech from repercussions enacted on your person by the government only, not from consequences at work or in the community. And despite what you may hear, constructive criticism at work or within the student community here at the College, no matter how severe or widespread, is not equivalent to censorship. To make such a comparison is to minimize the severe human rights abuses suffered by millions around the world in nations where censorship is government policy.

If you hold any new idea, you owe it to society to speak up, regardless of any potential controversy. Remember, those ideas which radically changed the world for the better were often heavily challenged upon their introduction, and popular consensus is no accurate measure for quality. While we thankfully have many ideas such as human rights and the scientific method which enjoy popular consensus, it would be a disservice to forget how easily hate and prejudice can receive similarly broad support, even in our own time.

In lieu of constructive dialogue, however, there are some within our own College community who choose to respond with cyberbullying and denying the inherent human dignity of others. Additionally, such an issue is not fringe in nature or limited to “one side.” Regrettably, some people you encounter on this campus or on social media may display blatant disregard for the identities of yourself and others. Such behavior should rightly be called out on and condemned. On the other hand, by choosing to denigrate someone’s humanity in order to retain some semblance of power, cyberbullying has the chilling potential to put lives at risk if its victims take such words to heart.

In this world of hyper-polarization, let me be the one to plainly tell you that cyberbullying is not only wrong regardless of who employs it, but it is also highly counterproductive. Those who are intimidated or coerced into accepting a certain point of view will experience a change of mind but not of heart, the latter of which is crucially important in healing our broken world. And yes, I am afraid it now falls on our shoulders to play such a role. 

So, my new fellow members of the Tribe, make the most of your time while you are here at the College. Make friendships which will last a lifetime, take classes which push you to your limit, and join organizations that inspire your passions. Just remember, if your friends do not think the same way as you do, you owe it to them and yourselves to hear them out. You might just find that what they have to say will change your life.

Lucas Harsche ’23 majoring in History. In addition to The Flat Hat, Lucas is also the treasurer for both Swim Club and Active Minds, and plays violin in the Symphony Orchestra. Email Lucas at lmharsche@email.wm.edu. 


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