Valuing Discomfort: On creating space for controversy

Andrew Lee

Everyone deserves to have their voice heard. Too often unfavorable opinions go dismissed on college campuses; worse yet, the people harboring these opinions are not included in the discussion. We must not allow cancel culture, a disease that suppresses minority opinions, to hamper a diversity of thought that could lead to rational, progressive conversations on college campuses.

My friends’ conservative views should not be shunned at the College simply because they are emotionally distressing to others. As a community, we should strive to foster a culture where everyone is both heard and willing to hear others, constantly checking ourselves from leaning toward irrational extremities. At the College, where liberal ideas often dictate discussions, we shouldn’t forget that “liberal” also means “open and free.” A college community that brands itself as inclusive and diverse must not let the most controversial people be afraid to speak. So how do we do that?

First, there must not be any pre-conceived judgment. When meeting someone new, we should not let rumors  or our prejudices about them get in the way of forming a connection. Stereotypes and labels, to put it bluntly, are a lazy way to get to know someone. Let’s not assume we know the conservative’s life story before we actually do. “Assume good intentions,” as the administration would say. 

Second, our views can and should be open to change. We each grew up in unique cultural contexts within which our opinions were formed. But that doesn’t mean new experiences can’t inform, refine or completely invert them. Real empathy starts with a respect for others’ lives as dynamic, mutable wholes. But that can only happen if we want it to happen.

That’s why, third, we must be willing to engage in honest, vulnerable conversation. That means opening up about micro-aggressions, how all of us – willingly or not – have subconscious prejudices because our brains have been hardwired by evolution to simplify people into stereotypes. 

We are all human beings who happen to have superficial variations. But under the skin, we’re all the same. “Race science” which suggests racial genetic differences in cognition has been picked apart by critics. No race is inherently better than another; we all feel, dream, aspire and care. We are all the same.

Of course it is in our nature to bond with people like ourselves, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to deeply connect with those with values different from our own. 

The truth of the matter is that identity politics must eventually go away. While safe spaces are necessary, uncomfortable spaces are too. In fact, they shouldn’t even be described as uncomfortable because we should become comfortable admist the discomfort. It is up to the administration to not only institutionalize, but help facilitate a balance of both. Further, it should not discourage or single-handedly reject people who have radically opposing opinions from the norm.

 Only then can real personal growth happen. 


Andrew Lee ’22 is from Maspeth, NY. His major is undecided.