Open Campus Initiative Shakes Up College Life

By

A new organization holds first event.

By EMILY HALL

 

The new organization brought controversial professor Jordan Peterson to campus Monday, despite backlash from other student groups.

On Monday evening, new student organization the Harvard College Open Campus Initiative hosted its first event on campus. They hosted Dr. Jordan Peterson, a professor at the University of Toronto who has recently come under fire for a video series decrying political correctness, in an event titled “Mask of Compassion: Postmodernism & Neomarxism in Modern Times.”

The group, which consists of a small number of students who have come together to promote free speech on campus by bringing controversial speakers, is itself nonpartisan but has scheduled more conservative speakers so far, as it believes that these are the perspectives which are not adequately represented on campus.

Despite a great deal of social media backlash to Dr. Peterson’s appearance on campus, the event went peacefully (far more so than did Harvard Financial Analysts Club’s foray at bringing Martin Skhreli to campus earlier this semester – no fire alarms were pulled). Peaceful protesters stood outside with music and signs that read “Trans Love = Power” and students stood outside the lecture hall distributing flyers about the speaker and their opinions.

Moderator Akash Wasil ’19, a member of the Open Campus Initiative, asked Dr. Peterson questions that ranged widely in scope; he often challenged Peterson to defend, explain, and expand on some of his more controversial statements.

The first of these statements was Peterson’s objection to the use of preferred gender pronouns. This stance, which prompted his recent rise to notoriety among college students, is two-pronged—he says that he both rejects the argument that government has the right to regulate the content of individuals’ speech, and he simply does not want to use those pronouns. He did note, however, that no transgender individual had ever asked him personally if he would be willing to refer to them using their preferred pronouns. He continued by asserting that identity is not a subjective experience, but a fact of biology and perhaps sociocultural phenomena. This prompted a number of attendees to hold up flyers printed by the University’s Office of BGLTQ Student Life that read, “Get the facts about gender diversity. Stop transphobia.” and “Trans Love Is Power.”

Dr. Peterson’s commentary then moved onto the topic of Neomarxism on college campuses today, focusing sharp critiques particularly on student activism and humanities education. He did not parse words when criticizing campus activists, including some who have been known to carry the Soviet hammer-and-sickle flag when protesting. Peterson even gave advice to students who want to avoid having protesters at their events. If you hold the event early in the morning, he said, then those who might protest will “still be sleeping off last night’s pot and alcohol-induced hangover.” However, he did not discourage students who want to make a difference. His advice? If you want to change the world, instead of “shaking paper on sticks at people and yelling at them,” he said, you should “get your act together and stop whining and sniffling and go do it.”

Dr. Peterson continued to provoke various expressions of discontent among some members of the audience when he called for the women’s studies discipline to be defunded, calling it an “activist discipline” that provides “full-time destructive employment for doing nothing but cause harm.” He claimed that it is a scam “from top to bottom” because the academic papers that are produced have little intellectual credibility because they lack valid research methods—and then no one reads this research. Instead, he argued, universities should be emphasizing the importance of honing students’ ability to articulate their thoughts and arguments in the most compelling ways—including by exposing them to things they don’t wish to encounter. A university, he argued, has no mandate to offer students safe spaces, because being educated is not “safe”—various disciplines teach painful things that human beings need to know in order to understand how society operates.

Despite the controversy of many of his comments, and the often very disparate reactions among the different groups in the room, there were a few instances that seemed to bring unity to those in attendance, even if only to an extent. First, when asked about what students should aim to do after graduation, Dr. Peterson proclaimed, “If you have any sense then anything you do would be for good,” evoking positive reactions from most, if not all, of the crowd. Secondly, Dr. Peterson garnered a great deal of laughter among attendees in his criticism of those at elite universities who protest against the ruling class—Peterson said “No, you are baby ruling class members; the only reason you’re not rich is because you’re young.” This was perhaps the greatest showing of unified laughter and applause that occurred throughout the entire event.

While many students may not have agreed with Dr. Peterson’s viewpoints, very few would argue that his perspectives and his frankness are commonplace here in Cambridge. For this reason alone, the Open Campus Initiative has succeeded in diversifying the range of viewpoints we hear at Harvard.

 

Emily Hall ([email protected]) is proud that the Indy also presents a diverse range of opinions.