Some reporters, editors and pundits may tell you they’re objective and unbiased. They may even believe it. Personally, I don’t agree and work to curb my biases while trying to report as evenly as possible.
So last week when I covered a talk by Adam Kissel of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) put on by the Cal Poly College Republicans, I’ll admit that I went in with preconceived ideas about what the lecture would be about. Because the event was put on by the College Republicans, I expected it to lean to the right. But I found myself pleasantly surprised, even after interviewing Kissel earlier in the day.
Eric Blank, the president of the College Republicans gave a nice introduction to Kissel, mentioning FIRE’s non-partisan stance as a protector of all things free-speech. My respect grew for the College Republicans for bringing someone to campus who does not represent just their ideals and rights, but those of everyone in the country.
Kissel began his talk with many examples of free speech violations at universities and colleges across the country, ranging from the far right speech protection to far left speech protection. Some of the examples were ridiculous: a student getting fired from a university job for reading an anti-KKK book, universities publicly shaming students for their minority beliefs or teachers not being allowed to have bumper stickers during election season. With each example, Kissel proved that rights violations at universities happen often, no matter what political orientation or belief set an issue may come from.
What was so impressive about FIRE was that they truly are non-partisan. Kissel said that some of the cases he helped defend were completely against his personal belief system and were even shocking to him. But FIRE pushes ahead anyway. As he said at the beginning of his talk, “This is the beginning of your adult life; we want you to be able to have full and honest free debate.”
At a time in our country when it seems that every person involved in political issues, controversial topics and complicated situations is taking a side, it is important to have groups like FIRE that represent a middle ground. Instead of simply attacking opposing beliefs without any thought or reason, it is important to truly consider the other side of the argument. Acknowledging which parts of the argument make sense and are functional is crucial to not only strengthening one’s argument but also to improving personal empathy, something I truly believe is lacking in our culture at the moment.
FIRE’s non-partisan approach sits in the middle ground and takes all comers. Sadly this is a rarity now, but it gives me hope that we have not gotten too far away from the values of free and honest discussion.