Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette , Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix . See the about page to read more about the DG.
On Monday, February 10th, Cornel West and Robert George ’77 came to campus to discuss the importance of community, the future of liberal arts, and learning how to interact with those who have differing views. Here is a tweet recap with students’ reactions and observations from the event.
Meetinghouse almost full. Students passing out zines and wearing shirts that say “beneath human dignity.”
Pub Safe just said no one gets into all campus collection after all seats are taken. There are far fewer than 1500 seats. Rly ?
George and West have entered the space. Collection looks like it is about to begin.
West and George are being introduced. Here we go….
In George’s introduction, it’s mentioned he’s a bluegrass banjo player. Chuckles from the crowd.
West’s funny tidbit is that he made cameo appearance in the Matrix films. Lots of applause from the crowd.
Cornel West wins the award for the best cuff links.
George on West: “We’re united with each other in love and… above all a devotion in liberal learning.”
George: “Liberal arts education is in crisis today.”
George mentions the smaller crisis is funding liberal arts education while the larger issue is identity – “what’s the goal, in other words.”
George: “The real goal is the deepening of the person”
George: “Do we believe there is an intrinsic value with knowledge or the pursuit of knowledge that justifies what we are doing?”
George: “We human beings are not simply centers of rationality. We have feelings. We have emotions.”
George: “Some of our feelings and emotions and passions attach to the.. values we hold. Most of the time that’s really good.”
George: What’s right and wrong is notoriously controversial in our society?
George: “If we’re doing our job it will be controversial in any center of liberal learning.”
George: “On some things we do agree, we have an intellectual consensus. On some things we don’t agree.”
George: “We can and do disagree on the proper means” of how to reach these goals
George mentions respect and dealing with people we think are wrong while knowing that we might be getting it very, very wrong.
Liberals (and conservatives) love talking about poverty and not inequity
George relating a Mill’s passage to the possibilities of getting it right and wrong when dealing with opposing views
George: “The truths that really matter… are more than just propositions to be affirmed….”
George suggests focusing not on the answer of yes or no to questions like “Does God exist?” but rather on its impact and meaning
George: “To actually be willing to do the liberal arts… takes enormous courage.”
George: “Your responsibility is… to show the courage to make yourself vulnerable…”
Now it’s West’s turn to speak!
West: “I want to pay tribute to the faculty that is at the center of the greatness of Swarthmore.”
West speaking quickly because he wants to “make sure we have time for dialogue”
West: “How does integrity face oppression? … How does honesty face depression?”
: West: “How does decency face insult? … What does virtue do in the face of brute force?”
West explains how he tells his students that they are learning how to die when entering his classroom
West: “How do we engage in this transformation that culminates in the… maturation of a soul?”
West: “We never want to engage in… sterilized discourse.”
West: “Humanities, thank god Swarthmore has a commitment to humanities!”
West: “These four years, you’re learning how to die… always acknowledging you might be wrong.”
West on queer students: they might be wrong but their humanity never questioned.
West says, “Chekhov has more love in him than some Christian churches I know” as the crowd chuckles
West is wonderfully narrating some of the essences of liberal arts ed. via obscure examples, but is he really revealing anything?
West wraps up with huge applause from the audience
Back to George: “You are wrestling with… what the point of a liberal arts education is.”
Speakers open up the floor to engage with them about the worries and doubts about a liberal arts education
Jacob Adenbaum ’14 asks George about his statements about recognizing that he’s wrong and questions George’s stance on gay marriage
Adenbaum to George: “What would it take for you to recognize you’re wrong and admit it?”
Adenbaum questions whether West feels like he is legitimizing George’s stance by going on tour with him
George: If we’re defeated in an argument intellectually should we be happy or sad?
George: “I came [to Swarthmore] with a lot of views that are probably more similar to yours today than mine now.”
Robert George thinks being a straight white conservative male is being on the unpopular side – as if LBGTQ kids have tons of support?
George: “When it comes to arguments about marriage… I had to do some thinking.”
George: “I found myself in a very different place than you find yourself. Is it a comfortable place to be?” (Cont’d)
George (cont’d): “No. I’d rather have the applause. But is it where I have to be if I have any integrity? Yes, it is.”
R. George: we must always be willing to be wrong during discourse. But I am not wrong in my belief in equal rights.
Now it’s West’s turn to answer….
West: “I’m engaging in dialogue so… [audiences] can be exposed to” different viewpoints.
West: “I’m convinced what [George] says about liberal arts education is very significant.”
Stephanie Styles ’14 asks West about sincerity
Styles: “It’s very dangerous when we allow individuals to separate their beliefs from their actions”
Styles: “There are so many people who do not have the luxury of merely discussing these issues.”
Styles: “What is it about the mainstream that has not been reevaluated?”
West: “It is up to the students of Swarthmore to know that it is a privileged site…. It is a slice and a set of very important voices.”
By my reckoning, this has been a pretty pointless exercise besides getting everyone in a single room. We all agree dialogue is good.
George says challengers to your intellectual assumptions are your friends, even if they’re wrong
Just heard Robert George and Cornel West speak. Thank you for changing my life with this dialogue.
Thanks also the students & faculty who put aside their own dogmatisms long enough to really listen.
Thanks for live-tweeting! Useful for those of us who couldn’t attend.
And that concludes the collection!
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Featured image by Eléna Ruyter ’14/The Daily Gazette.