A letter to the editor

Submitted by Brandon Willis.

As a result of controversies surrounding Arkansas Tech University’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, there’s a lot of noise going around about the loss of accreditation for Arkansas Tech and what that would mean for the Russellville community and Tech alumni. Those concerns are legitimate and should be addressed. However, I think the real story here, the real concern – that thus far the Russellville Courier and even the Arka Tech have failed to thus far focus on is this:

The legislators opposing this department and its initiatives are themselves opposed to being open-minded and inclusive people and are also opposed to the efforts of others to do so.

It is an indisputable fact that we live in a diverse society and world. At Tech alone, we have over 12,000 students of various religions, genders, ethnicities, and sexual orientations, among other distinctions. While I speak for myself, I believe that I echo the sentiments of a great many – both at Tech and across the state of Arkansas – when I say our goal in supporting this department is to not only live in this diverse society, but also as an inclusive one. We seek respect one another and appreciate the many ways to exist as a human being through dialogue and understanding.

While accreditation is important, we have to remember that that’s not the most important thing here. Yes, our local economy and the economic well-being of our students are very important and are vital to Tech’s existence as an institution. However, we should not disregard the social and societal costs that would come from remaining silent. We are speaking out and fighting on behalf of our fellow human beings – people we live, work, and study alongside every single day. The proposed alterations to House Bill 1213 by Representatives Mary Bentley and Trevor Drown is an effort to discourage dissent, control speech, and – indirectly – maintain that discrimination and prejudice are acceptable. They are not and we must not forget to say so – and loudly.

As far as the Board of Trustees March 15th approved proposal, I do not believe that this is a good thing. While it may seem like it to someone afraid of the alternatives, what the Board has said, in effect, is that they get to define and decide the limits and extent of what events of inclusion are acceptable for the students of Arkansas Tech. The application of critical thinking skills and the rights of self-determination are vital for any student body. After all, what use is what we’ve learned of our freedoms as citizens of the United States if those lessons are atrophied and rendered void, even at the local level? What the Board has done is submit to the pressures of these legislators and their prejudiced concerns. This is little more than appeasement and should we falter in a decisive, unified response, this is the first step towards the gradual but inevitable erosion of the freedom of speech and expression on our campus.

The fear of what could happen has overridden good, sound judgement as far as how best to serve the needs of Tech’s diverse student body. The immediate and easier approach is being chosen without fully considering the long game; the implications of the curtailing of the freedom of speech and expression not only in Arkansas, but in our American society as a whole. We should not be afraid of what could happen to our campus at the expense of those marginalized and excluded by such legislative efforts – we should not be so distracted as to not see what is happening to us right now, to our fellow students, and our society.

We should remain vigilant, and stand together, all of us, in opposition to any effort or group that would seek to promote the division of us as citizens, as students, or as human beings. This, in my mind, is the most important reason we should continue to resist any effort to silence or restrict our speech or curtail our efforts of respect, unity, and inclusion.