Mark Twain once said that he “never let [his] school interfere with education.” Granted, I doubt he was referring to the physical space of his institutions, but this sentiment still resonated with me this week. I’m referring to the McLennan Library, which was used to further the agenda of an organization interested in only one side of an intensely complicated issue.
An institution of higher learning should promote free speech and provoke healthy debate among its students. And where better to exercise that than in the heart of its largest library? As intelligent and motivated young adults, we should cherish our library as a forum for broadening our minds and expanding our knowledge. We should be confronted with shocking or thought-provoking information, and contentious issues are certainly fair game. But to be frank, Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights’ (SPHR’s) exhibit was just insulting.
I do not deem it insulting on the grounds of its condemning the actions of the State of Israel. Rather, I would say that SPHR insults the collective intelligence of the McGill student population by once again presenting only one perspective of this highly complex situation. Not to mention the signs proclaiming, “defacement of this exhibit is considered a hate crime.” Is this the atmosphere of fairness and dialogue we should be striving for? On the contrary, we should be trusted to make up our own minds if given the tools to form a holistic understanding of this crisis.
This is not meant to be a critique of the installation itself. Instead, I hope to engage some kind of “bigger picture” thinking that seems to be strangely absent from campus as of late. Given the number of students who chose to file complaints about this particular use of the area, I would guess they were not speaking out to defile the good name of free speech, or to promote censorship and limitation of personal freedoms. These students – who had no choice but to walk through the corridor should they wish to make use of their library – had the integrity to demand more of their learning environment.
Maybe it’s time for all of us to insist upon education over propaganda, both in and outside of our classrooms. Do we want McLennan to be a vehicle for growth and reflection, a space to foster a healthy exchange of ideas, as perhaps it might have been had others shared in the planning of this exhibit? Or shall we again allow hyper-political, highly divisive groups to command the use of our public spaces?
By the way, defacement of this article will be considered free speech.
Hartlee Zucker is a U2 Humanistic Studies student, and the President of Hillel-McGill, though the views expressed here are her own. Send big pictures to firstname.lastname@example.org.