Stanfield: Colorado State is in need of great debate

Arisson Stanfield

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

What we need at Colorado State University is a great debate. We must establish a forum in which the diversity of ideas in our community can be expressed, critiqued and accepted or rejected on the basis of merit.

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The alternative is to let ourselves be swallowed up by the riptide of political polarization that threatens to jeopardize universities across the country.

Option A is that we become people who criticize ideas with our words in pursuit of wisdom. Option B is that we allow ourselves to become vehicles for half-considered ideologies gleefully accepted but seldom reflected upon. The choice is ours.

Perhaps conservatives are wrong about immigration and more comprehensive programs for granting citizenship and asylum should be made a priority. Then we could all avoid the tragedy of watching the teargassing of women and children seeking a better life for themselves and their families. 

Perhaps liberals are wrong about safe spaces. Maybe American universities are indeed being turned into bastions of fragility and sensitivity where dialogue is controlled by whoever makes the strongest claim to victimhood. 

Before these things are decided, they must be put forth and considered. That’s the whole point of living in a democracy; we all get to decide on what counts as a good idea. Part of the reason we must debate which ideas have merit is that the act of doing so allows us to think. 

Many psychologists have investigated the idea that thinking is, to some extent, a subvocal form of speechThinking may help you speak, but it is not a one-way street; speaking also helps you think.

Speaking is the process of refining what we actually believe. Thinking may help you speak but it is not just a one-way street, speaking also helps you think. 

Thinking may help you speak but it is not just a one-way street, speaking also helps you think.

Taking an opponent seriously takes practice. Naturally, confirmation bias, groupthink and a host of other errors in reasoning make one blind to the perspectives of others. A debate offers the opportunity for students to see how to circumvent these cognitive pitfalls. 

A great debate would also offer the CSU community the opportunity to become an active participant in the watershed cultural moments we are in the midst of.

Cambridge University will forever be remembered for its 1965 debate between the writer James Baldwin and  William F. Buckley. It was the moment when Baldwin stated that, “It is a shocking thing to discover the flag to which you have pledged allegiance, along with everybody else, has not pledged allegiance to you.” This statement rings true for many African Americans some 53 years later.

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Four years earlier, Minister Malcolm X debated civil rights leader Bayard Rustin at Howard University. During this debate, he stated, “The number one hypocrite on earth is Uncle Sam,” due to the fact that America called itself the land of the free and the home of the brave without extending basic rights to its black population. 

“Debates with this kind of impact don’t happen at universities anymore. Often times our commitment to safe spaces overrides our commitment to dynamic and open dialogue. But we do not have to decide between the two. I believe firmly that we can manage to honor our commitment to diversity and inclusion and the need to challenge our ideas. 

Arisson Stanfield can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @OddestOdyssey.