A Heated Chat by the Fireside: Peterson Revisited
Last Wed., April 11, President Philip Glotzbach and Marie Glotzbach welcomed students to a fireside chat in the Kisiel Atrium of the Murray-Aikins Dining Hall. That evening, approximately 20 students gathered to express their opinions about bringing Jordan Peterson, a clinical psychologist, to campus. The students were clearly divided on this issue.
One group of students, led by Madelyn Streb ’21, had been attempting to bring Jordan Peterson to campus since the beginning of this spring semester. Another group of students openly opposed Peterson as a guest speaker, saying that his views were not representative of the Skidmore student body, and that they would create an unsafe environment.
During the fireside chat, both sides voiced their opinions. Those in favor of inviting Peterson to campus rallied behind intellectual freedom of speech. They believed that such a guest speaker could stimulate debate and discussion among students on campus. One student claimed that although she disagreed with many of Peterson’s views, she nonetheless supported welcoming Peterson to Skidmore. However, she later declared that she was “beginning to see” the arguments for preventing his appearance, which were enunciated clearly by the opposing side.
The opposing side maintained that Peterson’s presence would foster an unsafe environment at Skidmore. They further asserted that it is not “[their] job to convince [others]” that they are oppressed and that they have a right to disengage from a conversation whenever they feel threatened. Another student pointed out the striking contrast between the two sides of the atrium. As she maintained, the side in support of Peterson as a guest speaker was evidently lacking in racial diversity: the space was generally divided with non-white students occupying one side of the atrium and white students occupying the other. “Don’t bring [Peterson] into our space,” she demanded.
The fireside chat demonstrated how the Jordan Peterson case has personally affected some of the students on campus. Both sides said that they have received hate mail and threats, not only from one another, but also from people outside of the Skidmore community. It is clear, right now, that the possibility of bringing Peterson to campus is slim.
As Streb stated, “Everything is just hearsay.” The expected cost of $35,000 to hire Peterson as a guest speaker is substantially greater than the average speaker cost at Skidmore of $10,000. President Glotzbach made it clear that he does not plan to involve himself in the efforts to bring Peterson to campus. All efforts, if desired, must be made by students.
At the end of the meeting, one student proposed that since the costs of bringing Peterson to campus outweigh the benefits, Peterson should not be invited. The student asserted his opinion that having Peterson as a guest speaker would be only “a small victory” for those in favor of bringing him to Skidmore and “an extreme loss” for those who would feel extremely threatened by his presence. President Glotzbach closed the fireside chat by advising students to “reconsider” whether inviting Peterson to campus is a good idea.
As one student put it, perhaps it is time to “throw in the towel” and invite an alternative speaker whose ideas do not intentionally target a specific group of people. Since the discussion ended well past an hour, the president promised to extend his office hours to Skidmore faculty and students on Tues., April 17. President Glotzbach stated that he is in the process of organizing on campus events concerning freedom of speech that will allow students to engage in dialogues. They are scheduled to take place in fall 2018.