Where Town Hall Meets Colgate

Rebecca Hillman

Senator Arlen Specter took off his jacket in the middle of a town hall meeting on August 11–things were heating up in Lebanon, PA. At what was supposed to be a discussion on health care reform, Senator Specter was bombarded with didactic diatribes from citizens with differing political opinions.

This summer has been ripe with raucous town hall meetings where it seems there’s more screaming than debate. Health care reform is a contentious topic in America and civil debate is a great way to explore its nuances. However, when town hall meetings devolve into fight-fests, their purpose

is defeated.

There’s no doubt that dissent is democratic. But when the noise of dissent prevents productive discussion, its democratic value is lost. Town hall meetings have been used more as a platform for ranting against others than for discussion with others. The latter approach does not help parse out the complexities of such an important national issue.

Colgate has been very fortunate in the last few years to welcome world-renowned guest speakers to our campus such as Ben Stein, George Will, Fareed Zakaria and General Wesley Clark. This September we’ll be welcoming Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele to Hamilton as part of Diversity Week on campus.

And this is where town hall meets Colgate.

Many of the speakers who visit Colgate hold clear political stances, not unlike the senators and representatives who host town hall meetings across the United States. This doesn’t mean that Democrats on campus should recoil at the thought of a Republican speaking at Colgate, and vice versa. On the contrary, these sorts of events are perfect opportunities for constructive discourse.

A large portion of the Colgate community will likely disagree with Steele when he speaks, and campus lectures can often seem like a convenient forum for airing grievances.

But let’s try to remember why speakers come to schools like Colgate. These are serious, thoughtful people who have almost certainly put more consideration and effort into their work than any student here at Colgate. They’re here to help us learn.

So, whether you do or don’t agree with Steele, show up and listen to what he has to say. Ask him a challenging, pointed question. Start an intelligent, productive debate. Set an example for the rest of the country.