As a black American, I would welcome the Ku Klux Klan to Oberlin College to speak on the inherent inferiority of blacks, to advocate the deportation of blacks to Africa, or to promote policies designed to strip African Americans of their rights as citizens. Indeed, there is no better place for the Klan to spew their hurtful and incendiary venom than at a college, particularly at Oberlin College. Colleges are the market place for all kinds of ideas, philosophies and viewpoints, even those which are most contemptible and painful. I would not be at all surprised if a number of other blacks shared a similar view, but surely not all African Americans could accept as guests on our campus individuals or groups that wanted to eliminate blacks somehow or other.
It is absolutely incumbent upon us all to subject all ideas, but especially those most likely to be needlessly hurtful and abhorrent, to the most searing analysis and critique. I am not fully convinced that we professors hold ourselves consistently to this fundamental standard outside the classroom and outside our specialities. Because we are likely to remain an institution where all kinds of ideas flourish, we must all become more critical of these ideas and more eager to challenge speakers whose positions appear untenable. Oberlin College students do a good job, often an excellent one, in bringing balance and reason into one-sided arguments. But there is much room for professors to do likewise. Fortunately, it is not too late; many, many more highly controversial issues will face us all. Let's all be ready for those challenges. We owe it to our students and to the cause and purpose of a liberal arts education to be so engaged.
Copyright © 1996, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 124, Number 18; March 15, 1996
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