One of Canada's 'top' universities and home of one of their 'best' medical schools- Queen's University, exemplifies the stifling atmosphere on campuses across the country:(Ben-Ami)
....the “intergroup dialogue program” is part of a broader initiative by the university to “foster diversity and encourage students to think about their beliefs”. What could be more benign?
To accomplish these objectives, however, the school will be deploying “student facilitators” whose job it will be, in part, to monitor private conversations on campus and to jump in when they hear someone using terms that could be interpreted as homophobic, sexist, or otherwise bigoted. These facilitators will also be responsible for initiating “spontaneous” conversations about issues and organizing discussion groups and other activities for the same purpose.
So far, critics have focused their attention almost exclusively on the possibility that the reactive aspect of the program – intervening in private conversations – might impinge upon the freedom of speech or freedom of expression of students, a not unreasonable fear. I’m more worried about the proactive aspects of the project – the so-called “spontaneous” conversations and discussion groups on issues that the program envisions.
Clearly something of this nature must have a set of standards to determine whether or not a conversation is offensive enough to warrant an “intervention” by facilitators. What are those standards, and how will they be applied to the “spontaneous” conversations and discussion groups the facilitators are also mandated to initiate, particularly if these conversations and discussions deal with controversial subject matter? The war in Iraq, abortion, the gay agenda, radical feminism – it’s not hard to imagine a list of topics where feelings run high and where dissent is rarely tolerated these days, let alone respected, especially on university campuses. Will facilitators create an environment where dissent is welcome, or will they use their quasi-authoritative positions to try and convince the dissenters of their sins and persuade them to return to the warm and friendly embrace of neo-orthodox opinion? I for one am not optimistic.
The explanation offered by representatives of Queen’s University that this program encourages diversity and independent thinking simply makes no sense. By challenging and effectively suppressing non-conformist behaviour and opinion, it seeks to induce uniformity of thought and expression, otherwise there would be no purpose in intervening in private conversations in the first place.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of examples of stupid and offensive ideas out there, and I’m all for confronting those who express those ideas, but any confrontation ought to be spontaneous and it ought to be limited to truly private individuals rather than agents of the state posing as private individuals...