Campus Pro-Life’s recent display of crude images failed at both shocking the university community and generating debate. Feeling sympathy for a group who compares abortion to Nazi Germany is difficult, but as easy as it would be to push them out of our minds, the failure of Campus Pro-Life deserves a second glance.
Campus Pro-Life’s underhanded tactics are not solely to blame for their failed campaign. Their choice of location — the sidewalk — was a blunder that contributed to the lack of interest they received. Students passing on their way to class are neither in the mood nor have the time to discuss genocide, pregnancy or any issue beyond the weather. However, inquiring into alternative locations reveals a deeper problem. There is nowhere on campus where Campus Pro-life could have engaged in sincere debates about abortion.
Discussions about abortion, ethics and other topics of public importance occur in many classes. Often there are free public lectures or movie nights about these issues. Sometimes clubs dedicated to particular topics host open debates. But there is no single dedicated setting on campus where strangers can meet on common ground to discuss important, wide-ranging issues.
Public lectures do not provide that place, as audience members must play the role of passive observers, or if there is a question period, can only engage with the lecturer’s views. Clubs oriented around political or social justice issues are seldom open to new ideas because they usually attract members who subscribe to the same beliefs.
Social media sites offer a poor arena for discussion. Usually conveyed in short fragments of texts, online communication is slower than speaking and more prone to misunderstanding. Online commentators substitute masses of information for thoughtful arguments. As the Internet can always provide facts that conform to one’s prejudices, people fail to analyze their own beliefs and call their assumptions into question.
Internet users often fail to connect a face to the comments they read. Without this personal connection, commentators feel less empathy, trust each other less, and neglect to address their fellow citizens with social grace. Reading the editorial comments in any hot button political issue is enough to see the degenerate effects of anonymity and thoughtlessness on public discourse.
There is, of course, a debate club on campus. However, in debate tournaments, the goal is to win debates, not discuss issues. One tries to convince judges that their perspective is correct, even if this means distorting the facts. In debate competitions, one cannot resolve conflicts by admitting error or misinformation. To be a successful debater, one must ignore the flaws in their arguments. And a debator’s own personal views are not at stake, because debate is merely a competition.
When clubs, especially radical ones such as Campus Pro-Life, are denied the occasion to enter genuine discussions with people outside their network, their opinions cannot develop, their knowledge cannot grow and they remain radical. Taking this into consideration, erecting offensive images in campus green space reflects desperation rather than obnoxiousness.
Yes, campus green spaces are perfect settings for any large event such as a demonstration or festival. They are underused in the summer, when these spaces might accommodate intelligent debates. During a Calgary winter, however, few people have the desire or fortitude to entertain lengthy discussions outside.
Each year, Campus Pro-Life continues to erect radical displays and students continue to remain apathetic towards abortion. Discussion on other political and ethical issues on campus tend to follow the same dynamic. If students ever wish to create a healthy medium between our school’s attitudes past radicalism and apathy, they need to engage in healthy conversations. But before they do that, we must first create a place where these discussions can occur.