Letters to the Editor

Diversity, political differences

To the Editor:

Rensselaer has chosen to award Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Antonin Scalia an honorary degree at the 206th Commencement this May. Scalia has served on the Supreme Court for over 25 years, and is an innovator and pioneer in the field of constitutional law due to his originalist framework. In response to his honoring, the Rensselaer Pride Alliance and the Greek Spectrum have issued a joint statement opposing the honorary degree. They state that RPI prides itself on maintaining diversity in its campus community, whereas Scalia, who has frequently proffered legal opinions which threaten the civil rights of LGBTQ individuals (as well as women and other minority groups), does not represent this spirit of diversity. However, the quest for realization of true diversity on this campus is exactly why we ought to respect the decision to award Scalia this honorary degree.

True cultural diversity is attained by welcoming individuals from all backgrounds, independent of ideology, and personal characteristics (to the extent that everyone espouses their views in a peaceful manner). Indeed, groups such as the RPA exist to further this cause—to ensure that those in the LGBTQ community are welcomed and their diversity celebrated, not excluded. This is surely an admirable goal, one that I applaud. It speaks not just to the specific issues that community must deal with, but the larger issue of ensuring that all minority groups are treated equally. However, tolerance is a trait that must go both ways. If we truly believe in the goal of a campus society where everyone receives equal respect, this must also apply to those whose views differ from our own. Refusing to recognize the views of those who we disagree with threatens to engender the same sort of vitriol that we intended to escape in the first place. Instating exclusionary principles regarding what social opinions are fit to be heard on our campus leads to a slippery slope that we ought to avoid; furthermore, it is antithetical to a true academic atmosphere. Respecting those whose views are radically opposed to our own requires an extraordinary amount of courage, but I believe that this is what is demanded of us.

I join these groups in their objection to Scalia’s originalist framework. We ought to continue evolving into a society that unconditionally accepts those whose backgrounds and prejudices we are unaccustomed to, instead of regressing into one that does the opposite. It is for this very reason that I urge the campus community to respect the honoring of a man who has loyally served his nation, even as some of us may harbor serious reservations to his political and social views. We do this because a true academic environment allows for debate and discussion instead of stifling it, and because although there are numerous (and often conflicting) social views carried among us, we are all united in the common purpose of bettering our society and our nation.

Max Katz

PHYS ’11

RPI: Ignore controversy, honor Scalia

To the Editor:

Recently, the Rensselaer Pride Alliance and Greek Spectrum released a statement condemning the honoring of Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia at Commencement. While these organizations are, of course, entitled to their opinion, I urge the administration to press forward and honor Scalia.

RPI awards honorary degrees for many reasons, among them being for individuals who have made significant contributions to public policy. Through his 26 years on the court, Scalia has been a consistent supporter of Constitutional rights and separation of powers as our Founding Fathers intended. As a firearm owner and hunter, the majority opinion Scalia authored in District of Columbia v. Heller is of particular importance to me. However, this editorial is not so much about Scalia’s record as it is about the RPA’s intolerance of anyone with a differing opinion from their own.

It should be noted that RPI has had controversial commencement speakers in the past. If I had graduated in 2005, I would have been as offended to share the stage with then-Senator Hillary Clinton as some students are claiming to be about sharing the stage with Scalia this year. However, as far as I know, there has been no devaluing of the degree for students who graduated in 2005, nor, do I believe, were there any disturbances to the ceremony, as some students suggested they would do on a recent RPI Reddit thread. Some suggestions on the aforementioned thread included removing one’s gown while crossing the stage, and inciting family, friends, and other audience members to boo loudly when Scalia is honored. I must say, such actions would tarnish a graduation ceremony much more so than being forced to share a stage with someone who has a different ideology.

The RPA has shown its true colors with this statement. For an organization which claims to promote tolerance and awareness, it is clear that this tolerance only extends to people who share their views. I will not hide the fact that I believe marriage is a holy union between one man and one woman. However, such a view does not make me “homophobe” or any variation thereof, it simply makes me someone with a different opinion.

In conclusion, it is my hope that the administration is not swayed by the ramblings of a radical organization, and proceeds with the honoring of Scalia. Surely the RPA understands that this is a diverse campus with many varying opinions, and that it would impossible to find commencement honorees which please everyone. Other groups simply don’t whine about it as much.

Matt O’Brien

ITWS co-terminal ’13