Dissent Decorously

Face it--General Colin Powell is going to speak at Harvard's 357th Commencement whether you like it or not. The decision has been made, the programs have probably already been printed and the hotel rooms for Powell and his secret service entourage have been booked. Whether you are gay or straight, incensed or uninterested, the man will take the stage on June 10, 1993.

The question is, what will Powell and the world see and hear when he is at the podium? The answer is the only component of this saga you can control. Will he see a large number of people who have thought about his stand on the gay ban and approve of his presence? Probably. Will he see a bunch of students in shades who are too hungover to think abot any of this? Defintely. And he will most likely see a small group of individuals who do not feel the way he does on the idea of gays in the military. These people are faced with a much more important decision than which set of grandparents to give tickets to, for their conduct will affect the way everyone's grandparents remember the day.

Those who disagree with Powell's stance on the integration of homosexuals into the military must temper their right to protest with the right of others to hear the speech. The two can and should coexist. As ostensibly intelligent young people, they should be able to sit through a short address given by a man of whom they personally disapprove. After four years here, they can't complain that they're out of practice. Powell's opponents also have to realize that whatever they do will not effect Powell's personal opinion. Instead, they should redirect the brunt of their fury at Powell's boss, Bill Clinton, who is much more likely to yield widespread protest. After all, if Clinton gave an order to fully integrate gays into the military tomorrow, Powell's only response would be a clipped, "Yes, sir."

This is not to say Powell's visit should go unmarred by dissent. It is incumbent upon students who disagree with Powell to express their displeasure. But what must be avoided is the large-scale auditory disruption that was visited upon former President Bush when he spoke at the University of Michigan in 1991. Whistleblowing and chanting with the intent of drowning out the speaker is not behavior commensurate with the status that is being extended to the Class of 1993. Rather, it is the mark of a band of extremists whose arguments are so devoid of merit that they will not survive in the arena of rational discourse. They must find an avenue of protest that will exhibit both their displeasure with the selection of Powell and their ability to engage in rational, reasoned displays of dissent which do not infringe on the rights of others. As the newest additions to "the company of educated men and women" it will be their duty to do no less.