In a recent opinion piece published in The Amherst Student, Thomas Brodey ’22 accused the Amherst College Democrats (AC Dems) of contributing to extremism by declining to engage with the Amherst College Republicans (ACR) in light of their recent actions. We respectfully disagree, and feel that if AC Dems had agreed to debate ACR, they would falsely equate a culture and politics of acceptance with one of hatred. ACR still has not apologized for the reprehensible comments of their members, giving substance to the feeling that they are no longer a valid political group on campus. Declining a discussion does not contribute to extremism. Instead, it calls out extremism where it is found on our campus and refuses to acknowledge it as acceptable.
Politics isn’t some pickup basketball game that ceases to be important in social contexts. Instead, it extends into our entire life, especially when many in the Republican party actively deny the rights of members of the LGBT+ community. To say that politics should be confined to ideological discourse, as Mr. Brodey does, ignores how radical conservative viewpoints harm our communities. As we have learned over the past month, not all of our peers are capable of affording every person the basic respect and recognition they deserve. As an organization that proudly supports the LGBT+ community, AC Dems cannot alienate its members for the sake of some theoretical political discourse. This reality was a nuance missing from Mr. Brodey’s piece. There is no requirement to debate those who actively deny the humanity of our friends, colleagues and mentors.
To call AC Dems the extremists in this situation is disingenuous, and faulting them for not trying to reform ACR from the outside is unrealistic and profoundly unfair. In better circumstances, a debate could be a wonderful contribution to political life on campus. However, it is inconceivable that the proposed event would actually be the productive conversation Mr. Brodey yearns for. Backlit by the events of the past few weeks, a debate would only legitimate the divisive rhetoric of ACR members. We have little confidence that accepting the ACR’s invitation would lead to any substantial change or more robust understanding. ACR must instead work to transform their own culture, and it is not the responsibility of any other organization to rehabilitate them.
Furthermore, in a fundamental misreading of the intentions and words of the AC Democrats, Mr. Brodey claims that they “alienate[d] conservative students on campus” by refusing to debate with ACR. In fact, the AC Dems extended a hand to conservatives who want to contribute intellectually instead of dehumanizing members of the Amherst community. In a letter to the ACR, they wrote that “there are people … whose views are more socially and fiscally conservative than ours, and it’s essential to our democracy that we test our ideas against theirs in a public forum.” AC Dems certainly does not regard conservatives on campus as politically untouchable. It specifically calls out the toxic rhetoric of the now-infamous GroupMe messages as evidence that the current culture of ACR is not acceptable, rather than implicating all conservatives. In a time when conservatism is increasingly linked to fomenting hatred of certain groups, AC Dems gives conservatives a chance to shake that image and contribute to civility in our politics.
Mr. Brodey is right when he says that political debates are integral to our society. We hope that in the future, a debate between AC Dems and ACR will be feasible, but reality prohibits that collaboration right now. The statement clearly indicates that AC Dems is open to future collaborations, but does not — at the present time — feel that a public debate would benefit the campus’s political climate. Debating with political opponents is valuable, but engaging with bullies only elevates their hurtful attitudes, validates their ideology and inherently undermines the premise of civil conversation. It is our fervent hope that there will soon be a time when ACR and AC Dems can work together in pursuit of productive political discourse. However, unlike Mr. Brodey, we sadly recognize that this is not our current reality.