Advance social progression through discourse and advocacy
The world seemed headed on a very different path in August 2013, when I first entered Brandeis University. Barack Obama was in his fifth year in the White House, Edward Snowden had just become a household name, Ted Cruz was an ascendant standard-bearer and Nate Silver was an unbeatable poll-watching god.
Almost four years later, as I prepare to leave this campus, the Grand Old Party controls the government, led by a petty and vindictive crypto-fascist who scammed his way to the nuclear codes. His election has normalized bigotry and hatred in a way many thought impossible in this country just 18 months ago. Far from steadily marching toward a more socially just country, the whole planet seems to be taking tremendous leaps backward toward isolation, prejudice, fear-mongering and cruelty. On my first day at Brandeis, I was a theater-kid fireworks display of hope and positivity. Nowadays, I am a cynical news junkie — more conscientious, more political and feeling more and more that what I need to do with my education is fight, in some capacity, to undo the social effects of this November.
So as the American Left gears up for four challenging and defining years, I am more thankful than ever to have spent my last four years at Brandeis. This school is a perfect storm of free debate and critical thinking, of social activism and of constant self-evaluation. Students march by the hundreds in solidarity with Mizzou protesters, speaking eloquently about issues specific to that campus. Then, weeks later, they turn around and occupy one of our own administrative buildings for 12 days to demand justice for our own treatment of the Black community. We vocally oppose an Islamophobe from receiving an honorary degree but gladly host hard right-winger Ben Shapiro — because he came in an open forum setting, where anyone was free to question him.
Whenever a Brandeis friend told me about a stellar professor, I have always found that what made the professor exceptional was their willingness to hear and interrogate many different points of view. This paper’s own opinion section constantly strives to attract columnists all across the political and social spectrums but also attempts to grind misinformation and fallacies out of their thinking through a rigorous editing process. In my experience, Brandeisians love nothing more than a good argument. We understand that testing one’s views in public is the only way for them to grow more nuanced and more powerful and that disagreeing with another’s views should not mean disliking them as a person. We also know that this ideal separation between the individual and their opinions can be difficult to achieve, but practice is the only way to get there.
That model of social justice — the one which recognizes that equality among people is equality of reasoned, informed points of view — is what is needed more than ever in this country. Trump and his cohorts’ views are not defensible. Bigotry is not only hateful: It is also illogical and misleading. One cannot reasonably argue that the Black Lives Matter movement sows anti-police or anti-white hatred when one recognizes that the movement is reactive, peaceful and inclusive by nature. It is irrational to think that undocumented immigrants steal jobs or cause crime when one finds that economic and statistical data universally points the other way: Working-class jobs are leaving due to automation and profit margins for the one percent, while undocumented migration is at its lowest level in almost a decade, according to studies from the Pew Research Center and the Center for Migration Studies, respectively. Facts and rigorous thinking remain the best and only weapons for those fighting for justice in society, be they activists, reporters, pundits, politicians, law-enforcers or others.
We are not, despite what the Oxford English dictionary might say, living in a post-truth world. It’s just a post-objective truth one. Trump’s greatest weapon is his ability to spin any criticism or fact-check as the liberal elites conspiring to suppress him through political correctness. As New England college students, most of us are, by definition, the liberal elite. It is our challenge in the Trump age to prove that caricature wrong. We must show that social justice is not the restriction of speech but rather the embrace of it from all kinds of people. We must show that the facts of the world — no matter who chooses to weaponize them — are still facts and that the one rational way to live is to embrace them. We must work hard for every inch of ground and acknowledge that the gift of a good education is one that we must pay forward.