At the beginning of their first terms in office, US presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama were invited (and accepted the invitation) to speak at the University of Notre Dame’s commencement ceremonies in South Bend, Indiana.
This year, university president Father John Jenkins tried to avoid an obvious and seemingly inevitable controversy by snubbing new US president Donald Trump, going instead with a “safe” speaker: Vice president Mike Pence.
Not safe enough, Father Jenkins.
In fact, according to student protesters, safety is precisely the problem. According to one Imanne Mondane, as quoted in the student-run Observer newspaper, “for many people on our campus, it makes them feel unsafe to have someone who openly is offensive but also demeaning of their humanity and of their life and of their identity” (I’m going to take a shot in the dark here and speculate that Mondane is probably not an English major).
I note that Mondane is a senior, and have to wonder why she didn’t feel too “unsafe” to attend Notre Dame for the past 3 1/2 years. After all, Mike Pence was the governor of Indiana from 2013 until this January.
How is it that she suddenly finds Pence more scary in a nearly powerless position and living at the Naval Observatory 600 miles away in Washington than she found him when he was actually her state’s chief executive, lurking a mere 150 miles from South Bend in Indianapolis and exercising considerable power over her life?
If Pence is really such a scary guy, why didn’t she flee his domain and cross the river to Cincinnati, Ohio, where fine Catholic university educations may be had at Xavier and Mount St. Joseph, instead of risking it at Notre Dame? Was John Kasich equally terrifying?
Melodramatic much, Ms. Mondane?
There are all kinds of good reasons for students to protest over their schools’ speaking invitations to politicians they dislike. There are all kinds of good ways to demonstrate at or around the offending speeches, persuading others and promoting social dialogue.
“I’m scared, please don’t let the bad man talk” is neither one of those good reasons nor one of those good ways. In fact, if Donald Trump and Mike Pence really are the kind of monsters their critics describe them as, it plays right into their hands.
Fear is what authoritarians crave and what demagogues feed on. “Safe spaces” are cages for you, not barriers to them.
Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.
- “‘Safe Spaces,’ Notre Dame Edition: Who’s Afraid of Mike Pence?” by Thomas L. Knapp, OpEdNews, 04/13/17
- “‘Safe Spaces,’ Notre Dame Edition: Who’s Afraid of Mike Pence?” by Thomas L. Knapp, Key West: The Newspaper [Florida], 04/14/17
- “‘Safe spaces,’ Notre Dame edition: Who’s afraid of Mike Pence?” by Thomas L. Knapp, Sonoran News [Arizona], 04/17/17
- “‘Safe Spaces,’ Notre Dame Edition: Who’s Afraid of Mike Pence?” by Thomas L. Knapp, Ventura County, California Citizens Journal, 04/17/17
- “‘Safe spaces,’ who’s afraid of Mike Pence,” by Thomas L. Knapp, Kinston, North Carolina Free Press, 04/18/17
- “Who’s Afraid of Mike Pence?” by Thomas L. Knapp, Pasco/Pinellas, Florida Suncoast News, 04/26/17
Also published on Medium.