Letter to the editor : Bart Merkle encourages civil debate

Bart Merkle

Alas, there is a vitriolic tenor that has engulfed our society these days. Presidential year politics and world events have fueled partisan tones that are extremely adversarial and often hateful related to many issues, including: immigration, guns, abortion, race, police shootings, terrorism, religion, sexual assault, health care, inequality, climate change, gay marriage, affirmative action, education and freedom of expression, just to name a few. At the outset of the semester, I feel compelled to acknowledge this negative ambiance and to encourage all of us to rise above it.

While we should never sidestep challenging issues at the university, members of the Grand Valley State University community have an obligation to debate difficult, complex issues in ways that value freedom of expression, promote understanding and respect differing perspectives. This is the crux of what we do at the university as we explore the diverse world of ideas, of cultures, and of people.

Through these explorations members of our community enhance their ability to think critically, to communicate effectively, to problem-solve, to serve as productive team members and to clarify their own beliefs and values. The goal is not to foster homogeneity but rather, to promote learning that enables individuals to find their passion and direction, to use their learning to achieve goals, to contribute to the betterment of society, and to become the person that one wants to be.

As members of the GVSU community, we can contribute to shaping a culture of caring for one another even as we may have differing ideas, values and beliefs about issues. Clearly, people may disagree vehemently in a vibrant, intellectually challenging place like the university – but they can do so without spiraling into hateful condescension, disrespect, or other behaviors that are hurtful to community members. To this end, we may have opportunities to be active bystanders who advocate for fairness, inclusiveness and/or safety for others in our community – we should do so without hesitation.

In short, our university must be a place that enables all voices to be heard if we are to live our university values and to make good on our mission of “educating students to shape their lives, their professions and their societies.” More importantly, each of us can listen to these voices, can learn from them, and can strive to make ourselves and the university better.

GVSU is a special place – let’s all do our part to keep it that way, in spite of the toxic noise surrounding us.