Cecile Richards, the former president of Planned Parenthood, recently spoke at the University about her newly published memoir. I, along with hundreds of students and community members, jumped at the opportunity to listen to her speak. At the end of the question and answer portion of the event, a student in the first few rows of Friend 101 raised her hand and asked a question that was markedly different than the previous ones.
Rather than asking about Richards’ experiences or recommendations for women going into activism, this student asked how Richards could reconcile Planned Parenthood’s work with the idea that life begins at conception. The student asked this question eloquently and graciously, and Richards answered in the same way. Though that sort of question was unexpected at an event where the majority of the students in the first few rows wore bright pink Planned Parenthood gear, it sparked an interesting conversation about some of the scientific discourses surrounding Planned Parenthood’s work. Thus, I am calling for students to attend events that don’t exactly line up with our own ideas; by respectfully challenging the messages of these events, especially if they are in ideological minority, students can attain a greater understanding of the full range of ideas surrounding an issue.
At Cecile Richards’ lecture, I was jarred by the fact that a student who was clearly pro-life came to an event surrounding a woman who is so clearly pro-choice, and mentioned my discomfort to a friend as we were walking out of the lecture hall. The discomfort was especially striking when, at the end of the event, a large group of students gathered around the student who asked the question. It was not just the one student who had come to the event alone; a pro-life group presumably organized attendance in order to increase the chances that one could ask a similar question and challenge Richards’ beliefs.
But this same friend made a really good point: it is common for pro-life supporters to attend this type of event and ask provocative questions, ones that improve the quality and depth of the conversations, even if their own beliefs are starkly out of line with the message of the events. I have never attended a pro-life event on campus, and I am not alone in that among people with similar value systems to myself. Though this may just seem like an avoidance of events centered around ideas that don’t agree with our own, it also causes us to miss out on sparking the same sort of provocative and comprehensive conversation at Cecile Richards’ talk.
Of course, it is important to spark these conversations in a respectful and appropriate manner. I am not advocating for any sort of disruption of these events, particularly given how much time and effort goes into organizing them. However, raising one’s hand during the regular question and answer portion cannot be considered a disruption. Similarly, questions surrounding difficult topics, those that might be considered “triggering” for the target demographic of the event, should not be asked in the public sphere; perhaps they can be discussed in a private conversation with the sponsoring faculty or host instead.
It is easy to surround ourselves with people who have the exact same value systems and ideas; this is a comfortable way to avoid conflict. Furthermore, it makes sense that we would want to have friends who see the world in the same way we do. However, having conversations with people who have different value systems is necessary and is even desirable for understanding both sides of an issue. Asking difficult but respectful questions, as well as listening to ideas different than our own, is an important skill to have.
I will personally develop this skill by attending more pro-life or other conservative lectures, even if my own value system falls decidedly in the pro-choice, liberal side. By just listening quietly in the back row or even asking questions of my peers about their stance on the issue at hand, I could gain a more comprehensive understanding of why they have that particular belief. Doing so is worth the slight discomfort of sitting in a room with people whose beliefs differ from my own.
Morgan Lucey is a senior neuroscience major from Scottsdale, Ariz. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.