Robert George ’77, a conservative Christian thinker, activist and co-founder of the National Organization for Marriage, and Cornel West, a democratic socialist who has been active in liberal political causes, will come to the college in February to discuss their experiences and the importance of engaging in conversations with those that have different opinions.
George and West, who both teach at Princeton University, will visit the college together on February 3 to meet with small groups of students and again on February 10 to lead a collection for the whole community.
George is a professor of jurisprudence and chairman of the U.S. commission on international religious freedom. He has published many books on the topics of civil liberties, law and the constitution.
West is a professor emeritus of African American Studies and is the honorary chair of the Democratic Socialists of America. He also is interested in Marxism, transcendentalism and pragmatism, and is author of the bestselling book Race Matters.
Despite their different opinions, George and West have taught classes at Princeton University together and have become close friends. George volunteered to visit the college out of his appreciation for his experiences as a student and the opportunities that Swarthmore has provided him.
“[George and West] developed this dialogue through teaching and conversation and they felt, having read about the college last year, that they could make a positive contribution to the life of the college and processing where we are by [visiting],” said Swarthmore history professor Tim Burke.
George and West agreed to visit the college to discuss their experiences about having productive conversations with people of varying opinions and the importance of learning from others.
“I think the very idea of their visit is they are here to talk to us about how to speak fruitfully about people despite the difference in opinion,” said Special Assistant to the President of the College Ed Rowe.
“Obviously these are two [intellectual leaders], they have said and done very provocative things, which is the nature of intellectuals. So people are bound to hold strong disagreements with one or both of them, just as they are bound to hold strong disagreements with one another.”
In addition to teaching, George openly opposes gay marriage and has campaigned against it, leading many students to disapprove of his visit to campus.
“I do not think that it is necessary to bring someone who calls the presence of GSAs [Gay-Straight Alliances] in schools ‘homosexualist propaganda’ to broaden views or spur discussion,” wrote Claudia Lo ’16.
“A talk on community building given by someone who espouses strict essentialist interpretations of many, many contentious issues, that are about gatekeeping and have incredibly oppressive outcomes makes no sense.”
Some students, however, find such reactions to be unfair.
“The reaction against George, in my opinion, is uncalled for,” said Danielle Charette ’14. “I disagree with George on a number of points, but there’s no denying that he’s a prolific scholar, a popular professor, and, from what I hear, a really kind man.”
“The fact that there’s a degree of hysteria at the prospect of a conservative coming to campus every few years demonstrates that Swarthmore has a problem[…]Princeton and Harvard students have welcomed George’s opinion on their campus. For a few hours, Swarthmore can as well.”
During their visit, George and West will encourage debate and discussion and focus on how to maintain opinions while still discussing them productively and respectfully with others.