Section: Opinion

Column: Kenyon should not tolerate intolerant viewpoints

Many people, when domestic politics come into a conversation, swear by the idea of “seeing both sides.” However, in my observation, some use political ambivalence as a justification for an underlying discomfort with one or more marginalized groups. While not explicitly hateful, adopting this stance contributes to the normalization of hateful ideologies and ruins the sense of a tolerant community that Kenyon strives to uphold. To clarify, being tolerant and respecting the views of others does not mean letting harmful rhetoric go unchecked. Of course, everyone should be free to express their opinions, political or otherwise. Nevertheless, it is still the responsibility of the student body to work to confront these prejudices. For us students, the solution is not to attack or deride, but to educate people and call out the thoughts and behaviors that contribute to the marginalization and separation of the most vulnerable in our population. After all, the one thing a tolerant community cannot tolerate is intolerance.

What is intolerance, then? Aside from a dictionary definition, intolerance can be seen in political, social and cultural norms, acts or words aimed at restricting civil and human rights, eroding social progress or discriminating against an “othered” group of people. This stems from conscious and unconscious biases, which none of us are immune to. Beyond these definitions, we witness intolerance in the kinds of laws that are thrown around state legislatures almost daily: nonsensical bans on drag, books and gender-affirming health care, many of which have been declared unconstitutional. But intolerance does not just exist in the halls of state capitol buildings. At Kenyon, it tends to come out in conversations between peers and on social media, often taking the form of racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia. Though these views can appear in just about any discussion, they most often  — as mentioned  — appear in political discussions. Frequent offenders include nationalist rhetoric around border policy and immigration, moral panics over “protecting” children from so-called “woke” influence and instances of police brutality.

As with anywhere, Kenyon is home to a diverse host of political viewpoints. It is important to respect the opinions of those different from your own, but if we as students want a community that fosters growth and safety for people of every background, we must work to constructively call out and educate those who see social growth, progress and diversity as problematic. The process of creating a safe community should not mean that we let divisive and prejudiced ideas simmer under the flag of bipartisanship, but instead requires learning, growing and progressing as a community. To start on the path of getting involved, consider ways to educate yourself. Sit in on your local city hall or school board meetings, take a critical lens to political rhetoric of all kinds and research historical prejudices in education and American society. Through these means and more, we can arm ourselves with patience, knowledge and maturity to challenge prejudice wherever it manifests and create a genuinely tolerant community.

Austin Vaughan ’26 is a Psychology and English major with a concentration in Creative Writing from Cincinnati. He can be reached at vaughan1@kenyon.edu.

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