A Call for Civility in Our Current Political & Campus Climate

Every year, a man mostly known as ‘that preacher’ makes his way up from North Carolina to Dickinson. He is a rather controversial figure on this campus, as we are a liberal arts college, but nonetheless travels here annually to speak his mind freely in what is thought to be an environment of critical thinking, civil dialogue and mutual respect for fellow individuals.

This is the exact opposite of what he finds at Dickinson. I may not agree with much of anything he preaches, but when he expresses his religious beliefs he does so with good intent and respect. What many fellow students did and said to this preacher shatters any idea of Dickinson College being a place of ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion,’ but instead brands it as a place of potential aggression and hatred towards those with different beliefs – specifically a Christian. As he preached beliefs that many students didn’t personally agree with, everything from childish character attacks to anti-Christian slurs were deplorably thrown at him. In just the last 30 minutes of his time preaching, three key statements from students stood out to me the most: “Enjoy your mythology” followed by the student leaving, “God is dead” shouted by a heckler for a cheap laugh, and “f*** Jesus” (use your imagination) bellowed by a group of students walking away. In all three of these situations, not a single student thought twice about the offensive comments. Several students actually supported these abhorrent comments and kept the momentum rolling with their own verbal attacks against the man and by extension the Christian faith.

A popular character attack against him was his Southern accent, never mind the fact that atheists and the religious alike can have it. When immature students refused to commit to civil dialogue or simply the mature action of walking away, they embraced full Ad Hominem by discriminating against him for the crime of sounding different than themselves. One student specifically claimed that they had to walk away because they were “tired of his accent.” The student ended up staying until the preacher was done for the day. Regardless, the satisfaction from condescendence was already achieved. Condescendence was truthfully a common theme of the hecklers, many of which climbed atop their high horses every time they belittled this man. After all, in their world they are likely right about everything under the sun. But in the real world, mature students accepted that there are and will always be, beliefs that differ from their own. To think otherwise is childish and self-centered.

As a Christian myself though, I find it most important to make this point: I am appalled by the disrespect many of my fellow students have towards Christianity. I certainly do not hold most of the beliefs this preacher had, but the comments of students weren’t just aimed at his specific beliefs. The statement “f*** Jesus” being bellowed by a fellow student with ease, followed by support from other students, is deeply troubling to me. I find it hard to believe someone would bellow “f*** Muhammad” if the preacher was a Muslim or even “f*** transsexuals” in the case he was an activist of the LGBT community, but to me it feels like the Christian faith is held to a different standard on our campus – this preacher’s treatment being no exception. His beliefs may be controversial, but not once did he resort to the sort of foul language and actions that were hurled at him for hours.

Who are we trying to fool when we claim Dickinson College is a place of ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion?’ After seeing how this preacher was treated solely because he held personal beliefs that other students disagreed with, I don’t believe this for a second. As this was going on, many groups of parents and aspiring students alike were touring our campus. While they were being told we were a place of diversity and inclusion, the enforcement of the popular opinion was actively taking place. 

I am an ardent supporter of free speech, but the 1st Amendment does not protect anyone from appearing like an unhinged child. When this preacher comes back next year, I call on every student of our campus to either walk away or be respectful. In times like our own, civility must be brought back into the mainstream against our primitive urges. Instead of living inside of a reality-shielding bubble, talk with the preacher. Ask him questions and find why he has his specific beliefs. As it stands today, Dickinson’s ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ are superficial at best, facades at worst. If we are to change this ugly truth, it must start with all of us.