University campuses across Canada, and around the world, are being confronted with the need to be a place that maintains its dedication to freedom of expression and open debate, while balancing the need to support those individuals and community groups who feel they are under attack. Our community is currently going through this situation right now and we cannot shy away from it.
When we were asked to rent the space to the off-campus group Laurier Society of Open Inquiry, it would have been easier to say no with controversial speaker Faith Goldy slated to speak. But, we are a university that stands by our principles of openness and freedom of expression, especially when controversial topics are in question. If we do not, this absence of remaining a neutral place of debate diminishes our credibility as an academic institution.
Even though the event is set to take place on our campus, the University is neither a sponsor nor a supporter of the event or its speaker.
We must be a place that allows for discourse and confrontation of ideas in a respectful, and I must stress, lawful manner. We cannot shrink away from ideas that we do not like.
We must hear them, understand where they are coming from and fight them passionately if we disagree with them. But, we must hear them. We cannot change minds and learn without first listening.
Hearing an opposing view or allowing the view to be heard, does not mean you support it. It means you are willing to hear an opposing view and have the opportunity to understand why other people think that way.
We do not know what exactly will be discussed at the upcoming event, but you only need to look to the President’s Report to see where my dedicated priorities are. Equity and Inclusion. Indigenization. Student Mental Health. Sustainability. These areas are the ones where I put my energy, time and resources behind.
This current debate is not just with those who come here to speak on their beliefs, no matter how abhorrent they might be. This debate is also with ourselves and how we can bolster our beliefs while remaining a community willing to hear opposing views.
We will remain an institution that is dedicated to bringing equity, diversity, inclusion and Indigenization to the forefront of our priorities. Those will never change. But we must also remain a modern university that does not censor or limit debate. In a time of highly polarized communities, acting as a place where those communities have an opportunity to have a dialogue is more important than ever, and I continue to stand behind that principle.