Letter to the Editor: An open letter to Alex Stevens

Allison Bohn, Special lecturer, Department of Writing and Rhetoric

This is an open letter to Alex Stevens regarding his opinion on President Hynd’s message about the election:

As an instructor and alumni of Oakland University, I was not only appreciative but proud of President Hynd’s letter to the OU community. It showed his concern about what makes OU such an exceptional place: its diverse student body and community.

What you might not understand is that many people, particularly minorities, have taken issue with Trump because of the voters who either supported his campaign of intolerance or were able to overlook it.

It is unfair to say that all Trump supporters are racist, similar to how it is unfair for you to say that students are weak and need to be sheltered or that colleges, OU in particular, coddle their students.

The purpose of attending a university is to receive an education, and people have the right to receive that education without having to fear if they are going to be attacked physically or verbally. This should hold true for students on either side of the party line.

I think that is what President Hynd stated in his letter: OU is a place for everyone. He had to clarify that it is a safe place for students because it is now clear that many Americans tolerate, look past or actively agree with bigotry.

People are “unsettled or uncertain,” which is a totally normal reaction to having a leader who openly stands against who they are as a person. Let’s think back to the groups that Trump spoke of negatively in his campaign: women, the mentally handicapped, Mexicans, Muslims, liberals, African-Americans, LGBTQIA+ individuals, immigrants and plus-sized people, and I’m sure the list could grow from there.

If you look around campus, you can see any number of people who fit into one or more of these categories. How are they supposed to feel welcome in our own country when Trump’s ideology is made acceptable?

President Hynd’s letter was written to reassure these people that there is a place for them, and help is available if they feel threatened. This is more than just an issue of “PC” or “leftist groupthink.” It is a matter of practicing human decency, being kind and helping others feel safe and secure.

Your idea that we as a school try to shelter students from people we disagree with is simply untrue. Many courses are centered around discussions of opposing viewpoints, both inside and outside the classroom. So many of my colleagues not only encourage discussions about differing opinions, but teach students to dissect their opinions, analyze the messages behind the media that they engage in and consider why they themselves and others think the way they do.

I have students who identify as liberal as well as conservative, and I make sure that neither side feels silenced. It is not my job, nor the job of my colleagues, to silence anyone, but rather our job is to make them think and provide them with tools to effectively communicate.

However, if someone is being hateful or inappropriate, I will shut it down because a person’s right to feel safe and secure trumps freedom of speech. I do try to “shelter” my students from negativity such as personal attacks, bigotry, discrimination and sexism because that infringes on their rights.

Importantly, President Hynd’s letter did not specifically point out women, minorities, liberals or any other group Trump targeted during his campaign. Its purpose was to neutrally protect and defend anyone who feels unsafe, not to stifle conversations.

Learning, which is the purpose of a university, is hinged upon conversation. To assert that OU is preventing conversations and peaceful and intellectual debates is an insult to this university and its professors, staff and students. Frankly, it is a very naive claim to make.

OU’s tolerance and openness to different opinions is exactly what allows a student to write such a one-sided and closed-minded article and have it published.

Sincerely,

Allison Bohn

Special Lecturer

Department of Writing and Rhetoric