Political debates on campus lack focus on understanding

Blake Simon

Editor’s note: This guest column is in response to an op-ed by the president of University Democrats Andrew Herrera titled “UT’s administration is not as liberal as you think it is,” which appeared on last week’s Forum page.

In a Daily Texan opinion piece last week, University Democrats president Andrew Herrera argued that there is disconnect between the issues that UT students care about and the positions taken by UT’s administration. This is based on the opinion that most UT students are liberal, which is true.

Herrera labels any speech he disagrees with as “offensive.” Instead of offering arguments for his views, Mr. Herrera advocates for silencing and defamation of the opposition by the University administration.  

If Herrera is indicative of the “progressive” coalition in the student body, then it appears we have an even bigger disconnect on hand — between what conservatives actually believe versus what Herrera and company think conservatives believe. 

The activism by the Young Conservatives of Texas that Mr. Herrera quotes is taken out of context. He oddly links a demonstration questioning in-state tuition benefits for undocumented students with members of the migrant caravan being tear gassed at the Southern border. 

Later on, Herrera insists that we are in a “dark place.” He proclaims “nothing can be done to move UT in the morally right direction” as long as a former Republican sits on the Board of Regents.

This is a call for conservatives to be silenced and expelled from our campus and administration. That would be easier than actually engaging in dialogue with them, wouldn’t it? The truth is, the vast majority of participants in the pro-Kavanaugh demonstrations were not patriarchal manipulators seeking to defend rapists — they were people concerned with the value of due process and worried about the harm done by the court of public opinion. 

Why engage in honest conversation about these nuanced issues when you can just cry “bigot!” and have the University do the dirty work of censorship for you?

Does this sound like diversity of thought? Do these views offer a remedy to our polarized political climate? No. At best, it’s a deep misunderstanding of conservatism. At worst, it’s a cynical attack. At some point, if we want to have civil discourse and honest conversation, we have to give the other side the benefit of the doubt, even if we don’t agree with them.

The last thing I want is for people like Herrera to be censored. I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt. It appears Herrera has conviction, and really believes in something. But that does not justify his contorted view of conservatism. Conservatism is about God-given rights, the sacredness of human life, the importance of hard work and the value of tradition. Of course not every conservative upholds these values, but that’s besides the point. It’s not about the bigotry and racism Herrera might try to lead you to believe. 

I invite you to not let conviction get in the way of understanding. Let it be a call to humility, a call for open conversation. Let’s assume the best intentions of each other. It’s possible to disagree with someone without recklessly attacking their character. Next time you see a student group you disagree with, whether it be the Young Conservatives of Texas, the University Democrats, or whoever, try to give them the benefit of the doubt. Try to understand the issues they raise and the perspectives they can offer. UT will only become a “dark place” if free speech and different thinking is stifled. Let’s encourage diversity of thought instead of smothering it out. It’s not an American ideal, it’s just the right thing to do.

Simon is a mechanical engineering graduate student.