By EDITORIAL BOARD
On Tuesday, renowned defense attorney and Middle East scholar Alan Dershowitz came to Shriver Hall as part of the Milton S. Eisenhower Symposium speaker series. The announcement of his visit sparked several campus groups to draft a petition with the goal of barring Dershowitz from speaking on campus. Fifteen minutes into the event, nearly 50 protesting students stood up in unison, holding up signs that read “You Are Rape Culture.” These same students held their ground for a few minutes and then silently shuffled out of the auditorium, without saying a word. Meanwhile, Dershowitz, with the petition in hand, began listing inaccuracies with some of the claims and encouraged the students to stay and engage him in conversation. The Editorial Board fully recognizes and understands the message that the planned walkout conveyed.
However, we believe that an open dialogue with the speaker would have sent an even more powerful message.
We understand that the walkout was not likely conducted in order to change people’s minds on the issue. It was conducted to send a message — the message that there are a large number of students who disagree with Dershowitz and what he stands for in terms of rape culture. And while the message was sent — and received — a proactive approach would have been more effective. The silence the group of students practiced absolutely has a symbolic significance in this protest and our intent is not to minimize their message in any way.
While the Editorial Board certainly follows and understands this line of thinking, we think the goal was misguided. Instead of setting out to emphasize that Dershowitz was unworthy of speaking — and thereby not worthy of a voice — the students should have stayed and engaged in a dialogue with him. Their goal should not have been to silence him; instead, they should have sought to prove that their claims could stand up to criticism from the man himself. If they truly believe that the assertions in the petition had merit, then they should have stayed and proven it.
We believe that the most valuable person to engage with is the one you disagree with the most. To simply decide that a person is morally repulsive and does not deserve a voice is an extreme response. The entire goal of a debate is to constructively discuss points of disagreement. The students should have stayed and asked him the questions everyone thought they would ask. Why was he accused of rape? Why does he use the tactics he uses in defending his clients? Why have several people claimed large portions of his book are plagiarized? These are all important questions that could have elicited illuminating answers.
And if the students were unhappy with his responses, they should have respectfully asked follow-up questions. Yes, as a defense attorney you are required to do everything in your power to provide a legitimate defense for your client, but don’t you think you may have toed the line of ethics with your tactics? You said you refused to take rape cases until the rape shield law was passed, but how are your tactics any more morally sound than asking a woman about her past sexual history? The Editorial Board firmly believes that a discussion would have been the best and most powerful tool the students had at their disposal.
Yes, Dershowitz is a skilled speaker who has been defending himself for years against the very allegations the petition levied. Yes, he almost certainly would have had an answer to any question the students would have thrown at him. And yes, speaking to him would have been admitting that he is indeed entitled to a voice. But we believe that even in the face of a seemingly insurmountable challenge, these students should have held steady and voiced their discomfort. This would have not only sent a more powerful message than simple silence, but it would have also earned the group an extraordinary amount of respect. The students had the means to put Dershowitz on the defensive and demand answers. We believe that an open discussion would have been both interesting and informative, and we hope that in the future, students take advantage of these opportunities.