Recent campus events and social media practices at Mount Allison are threatening the respectful civil discourse that has been the hallmark of even the most vehement debates and challenges that have taken place in this community.
There have been many heated campus debates in my time at Mt. A. It is the nature of a university to be a place where such debates flourish. During such times, I have observed that most people challenged ideas, positions and decisions without resorting to personal attacks on those involved. Indeed, it has been my observation that many people naturally call others to account for when they observed commentators resorting to personal attacks. These “active bystanders” confirmed the ideal that one can disagree with an idea without attacking a person or group of people. At such times, active bystanders exhorted members of our community to remember and live by this important ideal.
Recently, our community has seen this ideal challenged like never before in my experience at Mt. A. This has been fuelled primarily, but not exclusively, through the use of anonymous apps or through other social media. The recent MASU elections are a case in point. During this important process, students criticized some candidates and MASU representatives in a manner that went far beyond merely disagreeing with their actions during the campaign. I have witnessed members of our community being personally attacked well beyond any degree of civility. More generally, but no less worrying, I have observed or heard of comments attacking people on the basis of religion, race or other unacceptable grounds.
Why have members of our Mt. A community been subjected to such unacceptable, uncivil attacks? Whether intentional or not, such hurtful actions stem from a limited view, an implied perspective that some members of our community are perceived as ‘other.’ Surely it is the diversity within our shared experiences that we must value above all. It is through the appreciation of different ideas and views that we learn, grow and make progress together. How can we be a true community if we fail to acknowledge and practise respect and tolerance for all members of the Mt. A community?
I recognize that I have a critical and official role to play in addressing these concerns, and to help ensure civility and understanding in our community. But I feel that each and every member of our community must accept that they too have a responsibility to ensure that civility and diversity flourish at Mt. A.
We as a community must reconnect with and protect the tradition of civil discourse that has defined the experience of generations of Mount Allison staff, faculty and students over our 175-year history. I ask each and every one of us to remember this: When any one of us is lessened, we are all lessened; when any one of us is attacked, we are all attacked; and when any one of us fails to strive for the ideal, we all fail to reach the ideal.
I therefore issue this plea: each of us must do our part. We must call people to account for when we see someone being unfairly and uncivilly attacked because of their opinion, their race, their religion or their mistakes. Remind them that in a true community one challenges the idea and does not attack the person. If we see social media and apps being used to attack people, then hold the attacker accountable for that media, delete the app, or – even better – populate it with positive posts. Remind them that we should strive to meet the highest aspirations of our shared humanity rather than sinking to the lowest aspects of our nature.
Let us all return to a place where civil discourse is favoured above divisive discourse, where mutual respect is affirmed above a lack of respect, and where we understand that the diversity of our opinions makes us stronger rather than weaker. Let us return to the Mt. A I’ve experienced in my previous years here as a member of this wonderful community. Above all, let us remember we’re better than this.