By Mark Cromer, The Student Life
March 23, 2007
It’s fair to say that on the evening of April 5, the eyes of the nation will not be on Pomona College.
That’s a shame.
For when Minuteman Project founder Jim Gilchrist steps into Edmunds Ballroom to debate the issue of illegal immigration, just how tenuous the principle of free speech and open discourse has become on college campuses across the country will crystallize.
Pomona College will either welcome Gilchrist as Claremont Graduate University did last month—by listening to what he has to say—or like the hysterical zealots at Columbia University they will resort to violence in order to prevent a viewpoint they disagree with from being heard.
I was on the panel that debated illegal immigration with Gilchrist at CGU last month, which was the night before allegedly frightened officials at UCLA cancelled a planned campus address by a member of the Minutemen.
Unlike the senseless disruption at Columbia or the threats that prevented the Minutemen from speaking at UCLA, the environmental and Chicano Studies students who gathered at CGU wanted to hear a wide array of perspectives on the environmental and cultural impacts of illegal immigration.
Sitting next to me was Dr. Jose Calderon, a sociology and Chicano Studies professor from Pitzer College, and Gilchrist, that perpetual piñata for militant Latino and immigration activists.
For the better part of three hours we held forth on the issue of illegal immigration and its correlation to population issues, environmental concerns and culture clash.
And the most amazing thing happened: we had a fairly reasoned—if at times heated—debate about the issues. The students, as well as a few workers from the Pomona Day Labor Center who also came to the debate, listened intently, respectfully and offered mostly tough, thoughtful questions for hours.
Gilchrist, that blue-eyed Diablo incarnate for many Latino activists, must have been particularly impressed by the students at CGU, considering the anarchistic thugs who prevented him from speaking at Columbia University just a few months ago.
Now at Pomona College, the hyperbole is already starting to fly.
The Student Life quoted Terra Bennett ’07 as saying “I feel very conflicted about paying a human rights violator to represent himself as a respected, admired speaker.”
Human rights violator?
Since when did a glorified neighborhood watch campaign along the U.S. southern border become synonymous with violating human rights? Whether you agree with the actions of the Minutemen or not—and reasonable people can see both sides—reporting suspicious groups of people entering the nation to the Border Patrol is not a violation of human rights.
Would a Campus Watch member reporting a suspicious-looking white male walking around Scripps after dark be a violation of human rights? Or does a high-priced tuition buy a “private” campus additional sovereignty?
Such accusations, tossed about freely before Gilchrist even sets foot on Pomona College, are not uttered in a vacuum, but are rather offered with a purpose. And that purpose is to lend a thin moral veil to those students and faculty who would prevent Gilchrist from speaking at all.
Over the past few months I have debated the issue of illegal immigration in front of several thousand students at a variety of colleges and universities across Southern California. As an independent Leftist for most of my political life, I have always relished sparring with the purveyors of as many divergent ideas as possible.
I thought that’s what Mario Savio, founder of Berkeley’s legendary Free Speech Movement, said it was all about? Or as Jim Morrison put it to the cops on stage in New Haven in late 1967: “Say your thing, man.”
Maybe my baby-boomer roots are showing, but I still believe more ideas—even bad ones—are better aired than fewer ideas just because some people are willing to shout them down.
Like Maoists armed with their little Red Books, these so-called activists at UCLA, Columbia and elsewhere stand ready to chant “Hate Speech is not Free Speech!,” blissfully unburdened by any sense of nuance or critical analysis.
I suspect that students throughout California aren’t going to be duped into dismissing the corrosive effects of increasing population densities as merely the rhetorical parlor tricks of an anti-immigrant cabal. The students who have shared their views with me sound far more engaged and balanced between admirable humanitarianism and pragmatic realism.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that zealots on many campuses are still wielding influence far greater than their actual numbers, as the debacles at Columbia and UCLA demonstrates.
How Gilchrist is received at Pomona College remains to be seen. The nation may not be watching when he steps on stage, but I sure hope the students act like it is.
Mark Cromer lives in Claremont and is a Senior Writing Fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS), www.capsweb.org. He was active in the sanctuary movement in the mid-1980s in Claremont that helped illegal immigrants fleeing El Salvador’s civil war. He can be reached at [email protected]