Speaking exclusively from the perspective of a Bucknell alumnus, I write in criticism of the newly established Open Discourse Coalition — a loosely organized band of Bucknell graduates who consider themselves staunch defenders of free speech.
According to the Coalition’s website, its organizers are particularly troubled by universities’ alleged lack of intellectual discourse surrounding topics such as “American history and government, the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, Western civilization, totalitarianism, religion in public life, competing visions of the good life, the meaning of citizenship, capitalism and economic freedom, American leadership in contemporary society, and the inherent value of the free exchange of ideas.”
As a Bucknell graduate myself, I can confidently assert that I sat in a number of classrooms in which these themes were maturely and meaningfully discussed.
The issue that the Open Discourse Coalition has with the alleged lack of discourse is not that this discourse is being censored or altogether erased — but that the critical lens through which these discussions are often had demands that the power of the predominantly wealthy white Advisory Board be called into question. The Coalition does not face censorship anxiety. It faces status anxiety.
Indeed, we discuss American history in the Bucknell classroom. But discussing that history also means addressing those aspects of it that bring us discomfort. It means addressing that this land was violently wrested from the hands of Native Americans.
It means reading the narratives of the Black men, women, and children upon whose backs this country was physically built. It means understanding that capitalism has only served a socially and economically privileged elite.
To intellectualize about American history is to incorporate the voices of those who have long been drowned out by the colonizers, the slave-masters, and the business owners.
Of course, elevating the voices of those who have been pushed to the margins means that those who have traditionally led the conversation about American history are being asked to step away from the podium. This is where the status anxiety sets in.
Those of us who have benefitted from colonialism and neocolonialism have never been asked to share the microphone — and doing so forces us to recognize that our perceptions of American history are not only misguided, but incredibly harmful.
I, too, believe in the value of open discourse — because it is precisely this discourse that allows me to elevate the voices of those who have historically been silenced. Unfortunately, it seems these discussions are not the kind the Open Discourse Coalition is interested in having.