Pursuing truly uncomfortable learning

I felt the need to write this piece because there appears to have been a great deal of confusion about why conservative talking head Suzanne Venker was uninvited from speaking here at the College. I say “confusion” because people all over the United States, including alumni who should really know better, are blaming the liberal students on campus for shutting down this event. Allow me to be completely clear: The people who planned this event in the first place, the Uncomfortable Learning committee, canceled it, and they canceled it because they were incapable of Uncomfortable Learning.

I love Uncomfortable Learning. I do not think there is a better form of learning. I do not think you can learn very much from the people and schools of thought with whom and with which you already agree.

No, I think you learn when you go to the people and places you don’t understand and immerse yourself in their worlds. This is why, over my time at the College, I have sought out opportunities to leave the purple bubble and go places where I would be uncomfortable and forced to learn.

In the summer of 2013, I went to Tennessee. I was born in Mexico and raised between Paris and New York, so Nashville, Tenn. – Music City, U.S.A. – was definitely new. That spring, I had sent resumes to nonprofits all over the Deep South and found a job with the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, the Tennesse affiliate of the national ACLU. I found a place to live online from some college students at Vanderbilt. It wasn’t until I moved there that I realized they lived in a fraternity house. I, a raging feminist Mexican-French New Yorker, moved into a fraternity house. My Elizabeth Warren poster was not always popular, and I, with zero experience in keg stands and zero desire to be a Kappa or a Delta or any other Greek letter, was not always popular.

There, I made some of the best friends I have today. Some of them will probably be in the traditional wedding I’ll have one day. But they’d be pretty cool with being in a non-traditional wedding, too. Southern frat boys could teach a thing or two to conservative talking heads.

In the summer of 2014, I went to Afghanistan. A telecommunications company with a connection to the College came recruiting on campus in the late winter and early spring, and when I saw a job opportunity in Afghanistan in Daily Messages, I knew that’s where I wanted to be for the summer. After a fair bit of practical uncertainty, I flew to Dubai and then Kabul in June 2014. In my department I was met with equal parts 1) respect and regular collegiality, 2) ambivalent yet amused speculation and 3) general distrust. I like to think I changed at least one mind, and I do believe you can only learn from people with different perspectives. Regardless, going to this place, so far from my country, so different from my culture, was the single most educational experience the College has offered me. I still keep in touch with my boss, Farid. He is fiercely loyal, exceptionally brilliant and will always be one of the bravest people I know. He was in Kabul during the Taliban, and I don’t think he’ll ever leave Afghanistan. He cares too much.

In the summer of 2015, I went to Iowa. I saw most of the Republican presidential candidates, and I spent hours talking to their supporters, asking them what they wanted from their president, from the federal and state governments, and why. From Council Bluffs to Davenport, from Okoboji to Iowa City, I met every sort of Republican in Iowa: the oldies from Ben Carson’s events, the moderates from Scott Walker’s events, the angries from Donald Trump’s events, the richies from Carly Fiorina’s events, the cuties from Rand Paul’s events (his supporters tend to be young), the older Evangelicals from Mike Huckabee’s events, the eager Evangelicals from Ted Cruz’s events, etc.

I was touched by the many kind and generous people of Iowa who welcomed me into their lives, homes and moral consciences. I almost wanted to be a Republican so I could help fix the huge mess they call the G.O.P.

So there it is, Uncomfortable Learning. That is how it is done. Stop being scared; stop all this bellyaching. You were embarrassed and that’s why you canceled Venker’s appearance. Allow me to correct your guest, who wrote, “The students who took issue with my appearance are as sensitive as their feminist leaders, who are notorious for cowering in the face of opposition.” Obviously Venker doesn’t know anything about you, feminists or us. The only people cowering in the face of opposition were the leaders of Uncomfortable Learning. Feminists’ very mission rests on confronting opposition.

Venker is clearly confused and I would have loved to have had her on campus and given her a chance to learn a thing or two. Trust me, ma’am, you and the young men who invited you here are not right. I’ve sought out the Uncomfortable Learning. I learned a lot. I could teach you a thing or two.

Carmen Linero ’16 is a philosophy major from Harrison, N.Y. She lives on Water Street.

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