By NICK TORTORICI
Civility. To many people, the commonly accepted definition of this word is something along the lines of politeness, reasonable and respective behavior. It is something so valued by Allegheny College that for the past three years, our wonderful institution has awarded a prize to public figures who have made positive moves toward a more civil discourse. The exact rationale for this prestigious award is summarized by the college as such, “The Allegheny College Prize for Civility in Public Life was created in 2011 to annually recognize two political figures, one liberal and one conservative, who argue passionately but with civility for their beliefs”.
Unfortunately, I feel as if the college is no longer in a position to offer such an award due to events which transpired during a debate between the College Democrats and the College Republicans. The debate, which is part of a series of annual conversations between the two organizations, consisted of two major topics including the current situation in Ukraine and genetically modified organisms. As members of this community, Allegheny students, faculty and staff should be committed to preserving an environment in which the free exchange of ideas is valued and appreciated. Yet at this particular debate, a few students engaged in counterproductive activity to both civility and the Allegheny way of life: heckling.
Heckling during an organized and formal debate, where two people are expressing opinions passionately and with civility is simply not acceptable. How can there be a free exchange of ideas when others feel the need to trample on civil discourse and academic conversation? We as a community must not engage in such behavior. We must love one another enough to have no fear to challenge the ideas of our peers, but do it in a manner which demonstrates respect and kindness. Allegheny has made great strides in promoting an environment where people with differing opinions can come together and discuss a better future without fear of reparations. Yet as of today, I am quite ashamed for some of those in my alma mater who cannot simply act with respect and dignity.
I am henceforth making a call for those within the Allegheny community to rise to the challenge which is civil discourse. Now is not the time to lose sight of the freedom which we all have the potential to enjoy on a daily basis. Those who seek to inhibit this liberty must reform their ways. Freedom and civil discourse are not just reserved for a formal debate about Ukraine and GMOs, but for everything we do on this campus. Whether it is conversations about diversity, economics, politics, gender, poverty or sexuality the environment for the passionate and respectful conversation must be preserved. In the words of President Mullen from his speech to the recipients of the first civility award, “we are becoming self-righteous – all too ready to question the intelligence, the motives and the patriotism of the other side, much less see merit in anything our opponents have to say”.