On Feb. 20, Chicago Mayor Rahm I. Emanuel spoke at the Graduate School of Design. Before his arrival, over 30 graduate students at the school from the Harvard Urban Planning Organization and the GSD African American Student Union signed an open letter to Emanuel, criticizing many of his policies, including his decision to close 50 public schools in Chicago, the gentrification of certain neighborhoods, and other policies that affect Chicago’s urban planning. They also took issue with the lack of an in-depth, open dialogue concerning the costs and benefits of these urban development policies.
We believe that the event did a superficial job of evaluating Emanuel and his work. The event’s description claims that Chicago is “a great place to live, work, and play,” a characterization that fails to account for how Emanuel’s tenure has affected different communities in Chicago. To be sure, many have praised Emanuel for reforming the city’s community colleges, overseeing an uptick in high school graduation rates, and governing during a period of economic growth in Chicago. At the same time, though, many have criticized Emanuel for failing to adequately address the epidemic of police brutality in the city, refusing to be transparent, and being unreceptive to the needs of communities of color.
Oftentimes, expressions of dismay with a particular speaker can lead to unproductive insults and calls to uninvite the speaker. We commend the writers of the open letter for protestesting in a way that did not demean Emanuel or call for the cancellation of the event at which he was speaking. In fact, we believe that these student organizations explained their grievances with Emanuel in a highly constructive way that facilitated—as opposed to inhibited—conversation and free speech.
As we have previously opined, we encourage all Harvard students to continue to speak out in the future, whether they are in support or opposition of any speaker invited to campus. We believe that student voices and grievances are valuable contributions to open dialogue and a comprehensive Harvard education. The response to this particular event should thus serve as a model for similar situations in the future.
Students have demonstrated through their thoughtful action and protest that Emanuel’s mayorship is far more complex and nuanced than a simple one-sided view might imply. This recognition—that the truth usually does not completely lie with one side of any debate—is a vital one not only for those who organized the event at which Emanuel spoke, but also for students, faculty, and administrators at universities across the nation.
Indeed, this principle provides the foundation for the freedom of expression that stitches together the very fabric of our society. We therefore urge students to make effective use of this freedom in the future, as they have today.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.
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