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Point Loma Nazarene University is a liberal arts college. In several of my freshman year courses, we discussed what it means to get a liberal arts education. Central to a liberal arts education are important ideas that came out of the Enlightenment, including critical thinking and tolerance. These same ideas form the backbone of western thought and civilization.
The petition being passed around by our alumni titled “Natalie Harp Does Not Speak for Us” makes me wonder if the alumni who signed this petition slept through or were not paying attention during class conversations about liberal education.
First, I’d like to address the title of the petition: “Natalie Harp Does Not Speak for Us.” At no point during her Republican National Convention speech does Harp mention PLNU. I was not even aware Harp was a PLNU alumna until I saw the petition in discussion. The only people making the connection between Natalie Harp, PLNU and the Trump campaign are the creators of this petition.
Secondly, I’m going to discuss the content of the petition. I’m glad that once students graduate, they take a stand in politics and critically evaluate policy coming out of presidential administrations and vocalize their agreements and disagreements. This petition goes beyond vocalizing disagreement over politics and policy. It argues in bad faith, using character attacks by implicitly and explicitly stating that Harp has contributed to the deaths of marginalized groups by working on the Trump campaign.
This petition and the conversation surrounding it is a microcosm of a general breakdown of discourse in the United States. The creators of this petition, and presumably many of those who signed it, don’t just believe they have a simple policy disagreement with Harp. It’s more than that; they drastically turn up the rhetoric and levy charges of racism and xenophobia. Once rhetoric is turned up to this degree, it’s hard to turn back down. The chance of reasonable discussion and debate becomes extinguished.
I believe the creators of this petition and some of those who signed it have such a caustic dislike for this administration that they cannot stomach the idea of once sharing a campus with someone who now works on the Trump campaign.
The current degree of our civil discourse and inability to tolerate those with different opinions is dangerous for college education and our country. As I mentioned previously, we pursue a liberal education to become well-rounded individuals. We learn about Enlightenment thinkers such as Kant and Locke, whose ideas about critical thinking, tolerance and freedom form the backbone of our country and western civilization. We discuss and debate with those we disagree with in hopes of reaching a solution. If we cannot peacefully live and interact with those we disagree with, our republic is in danger.
Finally, I’d like to add it is incredible that a graduate of PLNU holds a leadership position in a presidential campaign. As a political science major, I dream of doing that one day. I would say and think the same thing if the person in discussion held a leadership position on the Joe Biden presidential campaign. It is excellent to see PLNU graduates thriving in their careers. Harp’s success ought to be celebrated, not scorned.
Written By: Christian Aguayo