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Opinion Submission: Diversity of thought doesn’t include hate

| Student Union Activities Committee Chair

Universities, particularly those that cost almost $80,000 per year to attend, often pride themselves on their commitment to the noble quest for knowledge. Washington University’s motto Per Veritatem Vis, meaning “Strength Through Truth,” is one of the best examples of this pride. As young people grow up, we realize that the world is complicated and that there is no one truth to guide us. Eventually, we realize that any semblance of truth can only be attained through immersing oneself in a range of diverse viewpoints and modes of thought. So, we attend college and surround ourselves with people from different backgrounds and identities. Each person that we befriend brings their own viewpoints, shaped by their own experiences, that are understandable. We end up learning just as much from our peers as we do in our classes. This experience is one of the best facets of living on a college campus.

However, this diversity of knowledge that we obtain through our communities is only obtainable if everyone in our community feels safe and respected. Our friends will only feel comfortable expressing themselves, their identities, their experiences, and their viewpoints if they understand that we respect them, and that we are willing to listen to them. People are open when they feel welcome and respected. That is a basic tenet of social interaction.  

It is due to this idea that I cannot understand the choice to bring Amala Ekpunobi, a transphobic content creator for PragerU, to Washington University’s campus (nor can I understand paying almost $11,000 for her). As a member of the SU Treasury, I spent hours combing through Ekpunobi’s videos, and they seem to show a clear contempt for the identities that many people hold on this campus. Discussion and dialogue require respect and a recognition of the other person’s humanity. Ekpunobi does not hold that respect towards transgender people.

In a video of her reacting to a Good Morning America interview with Lia Thomas, a trans swimmer on the University of Pennsylvania women’s swimming team, Ekpunobi repeatedly refers to Ms. Thomas as a man, uses the wrong pronouns for her, and states that Ms. Thomas probably transitioned in an effort to win more medals while swimming. The video was disgusting to watch. Ekpunobi showed a blatant disregard for Ms. Thomas’ lived experience and identity, refusing to acknowledge her identity and afford her the basic dignity of calling her by the right pronouns.

In other videos, Ekpunobi has made comments claiming that “women are not natural leaders” and that “men think more logically than women, and they’re more logic-minded than women, typically.” There are also other videos in which Ekpunobi is entirely dismissive of LGBTQ+ experiences; in one, she claims that there was no need for Pride Month because gay people are widely accepted. In the same video, she implies that more children are expressing that they may not be straight because it is a trend that could gain them attention. She ignores the fact that hate crimes based on gender identity have been slowly climbing, and she ignores a 2015 survey from the National Center for Transgender Equality in which 46% of the 27,715 trans adults surveyed reported that they had been verbally harassed in the previous year.

During their presentation to the Student Union Treasury, the College Republicans made the point that Ekpunobi would facilitate discussion on our campus. Her viewpoint, they argued, was interesting and important, especially since she is a young, Black, conservative woman who grew up in a far-left household. Not only is her unique experience valuable, but she would also force us to examine our own viewpoints and reconsider our stances! For all of these reasons, they said, Amala Ekpunobi was the perfect choice for our campus. 

On the surface, it is difficult to disagree with these points. Especially for those who do not know the type of content that Ekpunobi produces, this may even be a convincing argument. After all, aren’t college campuses committed to learning and diversity of thought? Why shouldn’t we host her on our campus, then?

It’s because Ekpunobi’s rhetoric is harmful to our peers whom we respect and value. She claims to have no problem with a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, but disparages them when they express that orientation and identity in any way. She claims that, on the basis of the sex one is assigned at birth, one is made intellectually inferior to another. Claims such as these are harmful to those with marginalized identities. These claims do not inspire conversation or discussion. In fact, they diminish and dismiss the real, lived experiences of hundreds of students at this university, implying that our peers are faking their identities for attention. That is an indignity that we should not be encouraging at this school. Those students should not have to converse about their rights or about whether someone should respect their name and what they prefer to be called. They deserve the basic decency of not being forced to prove their humanity.

When we — those who oppose the platforming of Ekpunobi’s rhetoric — speak out in protest of her arrival, Amala Ekpunobi is going to see it as some kind of stifling of free speech. She’s going to claim that we have shut ourselves off to new viewpoints and want to live in our comfortable little bubbles. I think that the opposite is true. In order to hear new viewpoints, we want to make sure that individuals feel comfortable enough to take their seat at our table and speak. In order to do so, we have simply decided that we do not want to hear from those who do not abide by the rules of basic human decency, or those that build their careers off of disparaging marginalized identities and stoking the flames of hate. It’s not that we’re stifling anyone’s free speech. We just think that some people are a**holes, and we don’t want to pay them to be on our campus.

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