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About two weeks ago Messiah College hosted the American Democracy Lecture. Dr. The Center for Public Humanities and the Department of Politics co-sponsored the lecture by Frances Fox Piven. Dr. Piven is a distinguished professor of Political Science and Sociology at the Graduate School and University Center of the City University of New York and came to speak on the “The Corporate War on the American People.” Her presence created some controversy and questions. The following is an op-ed written for the Swinging Bridge by one of our politics seniors, Nicholas Kratz, who responded to the events surrounding her visit and to the lecture itself.

Photo Credit: The Pulse and Rebecca Wood

Learning to Listen:

By: Nicholas Kratz

Sharpening Intellect. Deepening Christian Faith. Inspiring Action.  These three phrases stand clear on Messiah’s homepage. These goals cannot be achieved by surrounding yourself with similar-minded believers.  When our values and beliefs are challenged, we often learn more about ourselves, sharpening our intellect and deepening our Christian Faith.  This is why I applaud the college for reaching out to Frances Fox Piven, to come to Messiah and speak.  This will promote discourse throughout campus on important issues that are often ignored.  You do not have to necessarily agree with an individual to appreciate the views that they will bring to the table.

Frances Fox Piven is a Professor of Political Science at the City University of New York and has been a part of many activist movements in her lifetime, and some of her views are considered highly controversial.  Some at Messiah may feel uncomfortable with the message she brings, and I will argue that that is ok.  It is ok to feel uncomfortable because in those moments of discomfort we learn about ourselves, deepening our faith and sharpening our intellect.  Her focus on the growing income gap and a lack of social justice in the United States is important for the people of this community to consider.  How do we reconcile our beliefs in a system that leaves millions unemployed and promotes racial inequality?  These arguments are important for us to consider.  Regardless of your personal opinion on the issues that she raises, the conversation is important.   

Dr. Frances Fox Piven

As a student of Politics here at Messiah, I am often engaging with beliefs, ideals and values that are not the same as mine.  This conflict of beliefs has an important impact on how we develop not only as students but also as individuals.  As a Freshman I entered Messiah as a student who could not rationalize why I believed the things I did.  I often stopped listening immediately after an opposing view began to be shared.  As a student now I often seek out opposing views in an attempt to understand them, but to also understand the people that hold them.  This has led me to become more open-minded about opposing views. 

Our experiences often shape what we value, so it is only fair to understand someone’s experiences to assist in understanding values.  To immediately perceive someone as ignorant or wrong is closing the door on an opportunity to learn, but also to teach.  If you feel like your point of view is right, than dissect the argument of someone else and engage in a reasonable discussion, do not attempt to discount a person, without first seeking to understand his or her beliefs.   This is a lesson I have learned here at Messiah College, through my studies, my professors, and fellow classmates.  Messiah College has a great opportunity to open discussion on campus about important issues, like the income gap, helping the poor, and the role of Christianity in these issues, but has decided that publicity may be more important.  While I may not particularly agree with what Frances Fox Piven said or what she stands for, I believe in the right for to speak at this place.  To open discussion, to create a community discussion amongst the people, because isn’t that what we are supposed to be doing as Christians? We live in a community and where there are differences we must work to reconcile with our brothers, instead of ignoring the issues at hand.  We should seek out those with opposing views, not avoid them. 

I challenge Messiah College to stand on their principles that they often encourage us to live by, and speak with actions louder than the critics, not answer to them by taking a step backwards.  Messiah College should encourage the student body and the community to engage in discussions that will fulfill those three principles stamped on our homepage and throughout campus.   Open discussion, with even the most extreme beliefs, encourages the acceptance and examination of a variety of ideas.  In doing so, Messiah will achieve its goals of ‘Sharpening Intellect’, ‘Deepening Christian Faith’, and ‘Inspiring Action’.  In my experience here these principles have influenced my life, so now I ask everyone at Messiah to listen a little more.  In a world where no one seems to listen make a difference and listen when someone disagrees with you, take the time and show some understanding.

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The Department thanks Nicholas for his permission to reprint his op-ed. We hope new readers enjoy the blog and invite future contributions like this from our other students.

What is your response to “Learning to Listen”? How can we as College and as individuals learn to listen to opposing viewpoints?

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