Creating Conversation for a Better Fordham


(Courtesy of Joaquin Rosso/The Observer)


At the core of the word “university” is its Latin root, “vers,” which means to turn. This is the same root found in the word “converse.” When we have a conversation, this can represent a turn of our opinion because when hearing a different view, we can gain a perspective we had not previously seen or thought of. Conversation, then, when we consider its root, perhaps comes from the notion that the very purpose of speaking with others is to produce and turn to new ideas.

I write about conversation because I believe that pure conversation—the type that serves the purpose of turning to, or acknowledging, new ideas—is lacking at Fordham. Too often I see a conversation that instead of a dialogue becomes a monologue of one opinion that prevails. For many at Fordham, this creates a space that feels safe and inviting because their opinions are the majority. While that safety can be a beautiful thing, it can too often lead to a danger zone.

Class discussions become an arena to air complaints about the “other side” and the people we freely call “they” who, unbeknownst to the majority, might be sitting in the same classroom. The reason this can become a dangerous path is that frequently, such discussions quickly deem those who dissent from the majority view as either bigots or uneducated people. Once we think the other side is filled with either bigots, who know their harm yet harbor prejudice, or uneducated people who are unenlightened (which, as I have observed, we seem to think are the only means by which someone could disagree with the majority opinion), the discussion ends. Speaking continues, but true, meaningful discussion or conversation is over. If the only way to disagree with the majority opinion is to be either uneducated or a bigot, few would be so brave as to disagree at all.  

“Good,” we may think. “If the other opinion displays nothing but unenlightened bigotry, we should shut it down to create a positive and healthy environment on campus.” There are two reasons I believe this is wrong. One is that when we shut down debate, we produce mediocrity. If we are of the majority opinion, we have the luxury of assuming the premises of our argument and taking them for granted because we do not have to argue with someone who disagrees. Could we really argue with an intelligent counterpoint to our belief if we don’t believe such a thing exists? It is likely difficult to anticipate what such counterpoints could be if we haven’t heard them, especially from peers we respect. 

Furthermore, how can we truly know what we believe if it is not constantly challenged by perspectives that actually bother us? If we end every class wanting to pat our professor and peers on the back because of how in-line all of our opinions are, perhaps we are not growing much intellectually. Perhaps we are becoming intellectually enslaved because to question the majority is inconceivable due to our fear, laziness or the mere ease of avoiding such disagreements.  

The other reason that shutting down debate is wrong is that the other opinion might not be a view made entirely of bigotry. Of course, we cannot know this if we do not invite debate. This is not meant to serve as a defense of hateful groups such as neo-Nazis or white supremacists. People, however, are hesitant to disagree in even the slightest way with the majority opinion for fear that their dissent will mark them as such. When people even question the majority opinion of a sensitive topic, we sometimes assume their entire worldview.

We should welcome questioning, because it makes us wrestle with our views. Though our views may not change in response, they will be stronger, better educated and able to withstand more thorough scrutiny. It is difficult to truly know what we believe if we are not faced with intelligent dissent. 

I do not mean we should present the opinions of others at a surface level. I believe we should ask if there are people who disagree, and genuinely welcome debate. Anyone who disagrees with the opinion that is often presented here at Fordham has likely deeply thought about and thoroughly researched their opinion to maintain it—it is easier to accept what professors and students around us say than it is to question the view that prevails and is asserted as morally superior.

I believe professors and students should help to foster an environment that welcomes debate. This is not because I think people of the minority opinion on campus are disenfranchised or oppressed and need a voice. Regardless of whether that is true, we should welcome—even request—disagreements. Real debate promotes our intelligence and prepares us to truly defend our own opinions. More than that, it fosters a community that promotes the peaceful and productive discussion that we need in our world. 

If we cannot welcome debate and bridge the gap between the aisles in a college classroom, it is difficult to expect our leaders in Washington to do the same. If we have conversations in the true sense of the word, we can produce better citizens and a greater hope for compromise in the world.

(Featured image courtesy of Joaquin Rosso/The Observer)