The Student Side: Arguments Worth Having

Features Intern Jack Trabucco talks about differentiating art from the artist in this week's edition of "The Student Side." - Former Graphics Editor / Jana Jackstis

It’s very strange to me that in the present day when each of us needs to walk on eggshells,  policing our speech and social media so carefully that the wrong word can see us expelled from our social circles, schools, and even our jobs, that such butcheries of discourse as the one that occurred last week can happen anywhere, let alone on a college campus.  

I trust most readers are familiar with the hateful “protest” that took place last week behind the Campbell Library, wherein a group of ignorant grifters infested campus to get a rise out of passing students by lobbying hateful comments and racist slogans at them. 

Riot fencing and a surprisingly large security force were erected around the animals to protect them in the event they got what they very much wanted—to be physically attacked by an angered student. Thankfully, nobody was harmed. Rather than submit to the provocation, Rowan students rallied against the hatred with love and music until the offenders decided to leave, and normalcy returned.  

I don’t know who the protesters were or what organization they represented, and I don’t care. Neither should you. 

It wouldn’t matter if they claimed to be representing a church, an awareness campaign, or if they had a legitimate reason to be protesting—they’re barging onto campus and the way they went about spreading their rhetoric, to say nothing of the rhetoric itself, instantly invalidated their message.  

I firmly believe that the way one spreads a message is more important than the message itself.  

We’ve all heard at least once: presentation is everything, and it’s one of the truest sentiments in the world. How you tell someone something—tone of voice, timing, environment, etc.—is what determines how that message is interpreted and remembered. 

That’s why, when we give speeches in class, we dress nice and make eye-catching visual aids; we want to surround our message with a positive experience for the listeners. This is because even if they don’t absorb or understand the full message, the parts they do remember will evoke pleasant emotions and therefore predispose them to be more favorable towards the message; it’s basic psychology. Of course, the scene I just described requires the initial openness of the recipient to our message. If they aren’t willing to listen in the first place, then this approach doesn’t work.  

But some people think they have the right, the privilege, to make people listen, and in those cases, words give way to war.  

Unwelcome intrusion, defamation, openly hateful rhetoric, and violence do nothing but hurt a  message’s cause, and they should not be allowed anywhere in the sphere of public discourse. It doesn’t matter what the protesters were trying to say or convince the students of; their despicable practices destroyed their image in the minds of the students irreparably and deservedly so.  

Abusing Rowan University’s status as a “public” university to barge in and block the main thoroughfare just adds insult to injury, revealing their total lack of respect for the Rowan University students and staff. I dare say reforms need to be made to prevent such events from happening again. 

There needs to be more communication between groups like this and the administration. They could deliberate the time and location necessary to properly facilitate an effective presentation of ideas. The space could be free, but they still need to go through the proper motions to set up an event with a schedule, a queue, and a willing audience-listener bond. Therefore, when people take issue with the speech, we’re in an environment that encourages proper and decent discourse rather than screaming and ineffectual virtue signaling.  

I’ve made it clear that I’m not a fan of our guests last week purely based on their approach; it goes without saying that I vehemently disagree with their message, and as a devout Catholic it infuriates me that people like that continually poison the public perception of Christianity with their hateful deceit. 

But that’s only half of my critique on the issue. 

Much attention and praise has been attributed to the students who “stood their ground” and “rallied against” the visitors with slogans of love and songs of acceptance until they left. 

Here’s why I think that was the wrong way to deal with the issue and may have actually made it worse.  

Though I completely understand and agree with the outrage directed at the visitors by passing students and those directly provoked by them, I believe the only appropriate response to such aggression is to ignore it entirely. 

Short of them leaving their designated area to place their hands on a student, which is an arrestable offense, all they are permitted to do is stand and yell. That can and should be ignored, otherwise, we give them the reaction they’re looking for. Not only that, but by rallying together the way we did, we build them up into some sort of threat that deserves that kind of reaction. In reality, they deserve nothing but our complete rejection.  

By doing anything other than walking past them without speaking, we justify their cause and make it a success. Even if we don’t ally with them, something I’d bet no one on campus would, by resisting them in such a large-scale, vocal way, we portray them as something to be acknowledged and resisted, rather than outright ignored. Seeing the massive reaction they got last week will ensure they return again, after seeing how easily the Rowan community is stirred to action by a few harsh words. And when they do return, they’ll come in greater numbers and with worse things to say.  

What I mean by all of this is that certain arguments just aren’t worth having, and when we get too caught up in fighting pointless battles where no one wins.

We lose sight of issues that matter – issues that demand attention. What’s more, we lose sight of how to have proper discourse since arguing is so much easier and more enjoyable. When that becomes the norm when students stop asking questions that matter in favor of shouting meaningless platitudes at each other, that is when division starts. And wherever division starts, collapse is sure to follow.

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