On Feb. 2, the NYU College Republicans hosted Gavin McInnes, a controversial commentator with a penchant for making sexist and racist remarks. Upon entering the building, McInnes was pepper-sprayed, several arrests were made and the event was forced to end almost immediately. In the same week, the NYU Students for Justice in Palestine Executive Board received an anonymous email threatening to release the identities and immigration statuses of their members and affiliated campus groups.
NYU has a deeply liberal reputation, there’s no doubt about that, but we are at a crossroads — to maintain or to diverge from our principles. At the heart of liberalism is the understanding that our rights are indivisible by nature of being human; all are worthy of our mutual guarantee of tolerance, peace and justice by rule of law. This perspective leads us to uphold such traditions as the right to peaceful assembly, and to treasure an open discourse that is free from the threat of censorship. In both the case of Gavin McInnes and the SJP, we are being faced with an serious question about the integrity of these classical liberal ideas.
I have no doubt that the College Republicans were entirely aware of Gavin’s history and in fact they clarified why they invited him: so that their club could better understand exactly why he believes his ideas, not by ignoring that his perspective exists, but by opening those ideas to rigorous campus discussion. This is the exact reason freedom of speech is not some secondary goal, but is in fact the bedrock of academia. When the WSN Arts Editor wrote last week, “McInnes’ pepper spray incident and the ensuing chaos that followed were both to be expected that night,” she passively accepts violence as a natural reaction to divisive topics, as if to say he was asking for it. It’s a repulsive comment that we would never accept in the case of the threats made against the NYU SJP, nor any eruptions of violence.
Speaking as the son of refugees from Vietnam, I have personally experienced the racial harm and alienation that words can embolden. However, my parents escaped a communist regime and raised me with values that would have otherwise been illegal. Foremost among them is the value of open and free expression. To deem an entire class of speech as illegitimate — and not only illegitimate, but should be expectant of punishment, violence and even the threat of shutdown, as urged in multiple opinion articles published by WSN — is entirely antithetical to who we are as members of a university.
Liberals must stand with one another certainly when we agree, but more importantly when we disagree. We must see each other as equals and not enemies who use violence and subversion. Should we forget that, then we have failed as a campus meant to prepare us for the world around us.
Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.
Email Calvin Tran at [email protected]