Santorum, Arkes, and Platforms for Hate

arkes

arkes

(Craig Campbell)– Tomorrow, Rick Santorum will pay a visit to Grosse Pointe South High School – my alma mater – to give a speech on “leadership.” The Young Americans for Freedom chapter raised $18,000 to bring the ex-Senator for a speech, which Principal Matthew Outlaw approved as an event for students to attend instead of classes. Subsequently, a group of teachers and community members protested, citing Santorum’s controversial views and polemical rhetoric on social issues. In response, the superintendent of Grosse Pointe Public Schools, Tom Harwood, canceled the event; doubts were raised as to whether Santorum could stick to his “leadership” topic – he has never spoken to a crowd at a high school, and he would not provide a transcript of the speech in advance. An outraged conservative community lashed back, categorizing the administration’s response as a First Amendment violation. Adam Tragone, the director of External Relations at YAF, claims in an interview that “it’s an infringement on freedom of speech. I understand some of Dr. Hardwood’s reservations, because of Senator Santorum’s political views, but as we explained to him, it was a speech on leadership… it is very important for free speech. It is a free speech issue.” And so, a compromise was reached: Rick Santorum will speak at GPS during the school day, but only if students receive written parental permission before the event.

Watch as Rick Santorum responds to the situation on Fox News.

How can you possibly expect Santorum to talk about leadership – and exclusively leadership – when it takes him all of 15 seconds on Fox News to abandon the topic of Grosse Pointe South and discuss the virtues of traditional marriage? In fact, many political commentators speculate that Santorum lost his chance at the Republican nomination in 2012 precisely because of his inability to stay on-topic. This is not a free speech issue. It is an issue of education, and Rick Santorum is by no means an educator.

Artistic rendering of Grosse Pointe South.  There is, of course, no rainbow flag on the front lawn.
The GPS Young Republicans group (now YAF) was founded the same year I started our school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. I (and many, many others) felt that they were given preferential treatment over us.

Every news article on the situation reported that the Young Americans for Freedom chapter at Grosse Pointe South “raised” $18,000 to bring the senator to Michigan. I hear, anecdotally, that this student club is relatively small. I find it unlikely that they raised 18K by selling cookies after school; it makes more sense, to me, (although this is entirely speculation) that private, conservative community members are paying Santorum’s honorarium, for a speech that is supplanting time in the classroom.

I support the ex-senator’s right to preach about the subhumanity of us homosexuals until the End of Days; I support, even, his right to speak in Grosse Pointe, a historically conservative community. But Matt Outlaw should be ashamed of himself for approving this event to take place during the school day, especially at a public school. The town has been host to many political figures over the years. For instance, in 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech at GPS, just three weeks before his death. This was a non-mandatory, afterschool event. Although the Santorum event, now, is non-mandatory, it’s still scheduled during the school day. It follows – according to the administration that approved the event – that Rick Santorum has more to offer students in this talk on “leadership” than professional educators do in their AP Calculus, Honors Biology, or American Lit courses.

Regardless of one’s personal convictions, it’s obvious that Santorum is a controversial figure; even if you agree with his moral ideology, it’s easy to see that his mere presence is enough to make a very specific and significant group of LGBT students (who, in the past, have been ignored at GPS) palpably uncomfortable. I could list a litany of equally (if not more) qualified speakers to lecture on leadership without this inappropriate – irreconcilable – tradeoff. A school should, I think, welcome speakers that will challenge students’ beliefs, and possibly make them feel uncomfortable in the process. But Santorum isolates a disenfranchised minority in his inflexible views on homosexuality – which matters, even for a speech on leadership. If the national leading expert on sandwich-making was a proud, card-carrying member of the Ku Klux Klan, he would never be invited to speak (even about sandwiches) at a public school. Likewise, an academic expert on gay identity would not be allowed to speak at an LGBT conference if he had previously made public statements against the rights of transgendered individuals. It’s common sense; you do not give bigots a public platform.

Does the same line of reasoning apply to Professor Hadley Arkes? This seems to be a hot question on campus. He did, after all, testify in front of the Supreme Court in support of DOMA. (For a more complete discussion of Professor Arkes and hate speech, please refer to Ethan Corey’s well-articulated article, and his responses in the comments section.) Arkes’ views on marriage are essentially the same as Santorum’s. Should he be dismissed from Amherst, then, for marginalizing a certain community within the student body?

No, because context matters. In discussing Arkes’ views on marriage, we should remember that, when it comes to issues of discriminatory language in schools, the issue is not of free speech or academic freedom, but of education.

Hadley Arkes has taught at Amherst for nearly half a century. He is a well-established, respected political scientist. He is a vestige of a yesteryear when any expression of gay sexuality was considered aberrant behavior. Hadley Arkes is a part of Amherst’s history. Rick Santorum is not part of Grosse Pointe’s history. Amherst has a notably liberal student body with a predominantly liberal faculty, in one of the most politically liberal regions in the nation. Grosse Pointe is historically socially conservative, and Matt Outlaw, the principal of GPS, has not been a friend to LGBT students.

Hadley Arkes is not a politician; Rick Santorum is not an academic. Arkes is an employee of Amherst College, a private institution. As a professor, he teaches college students — who are on all counts adults — about politics and the law. As an academic, he is free to publish papers that make logical arguments that cite relevant facts and precedence in order to defend a proposed thesis. All of his statments on gay marriage are structured in this way.

As a (former) politician, Rick Santorum’s statements on LGBT rights use political rhetoric, appealing to the emotions of his constituencies in order to secure votes. As evidenced by the above Fox News video, he turns away from logic and argues that “traditional marriage” preserves the good ol’ America we know and love. Patriotism! His audience, tomorrow, will be a group of 14-18 year-old students, at a public institution.

In their respective criticisms, both Ethan (AC Voice) and Idalia Friedson (The Student) point to the fact that Arkes, in his recent article on The Catholic Thing, implicitly links bisexuality and necrophilia. I found the article to be not quite as inflammatory and dogmatic as this suggests. Arkes asks questions about the abstract semantic notions of “marriage” and “sexual orientation,” and actually derides Bill O’Reilly, twice. He says that “sexual orientation,” in its vaguer meaning, could include bestiality, pedophilia, or necrophilia. While he excludes the obvious counterpoint, his argument is logically sound. He does not, at any point, equate gay sex to necrophilia. I’ve heard claims that Arkes marks down his students for disagreeing with him, specifically on his beliefs about marriage equality, in papers. I have no idea whether these claims are true; if they are, that is a problem that extends far beyond the scope of marriage equality – it’s a pedagogical issue that should be addressed accordingly. Although I’m reluctant to establish myself as an Arkes-apologist, I don’t, from reading some of his more recently published articles, feel that he views me, as a gay Amherst student, somehow subhuman to my heterosexual peers.

Hadley Arkes is outspokenly against gay marriage, and he explains his rational by asking questions about what “marriage” means, exactly, and how law, love, and morality play into marriage’s evolving definition. Didn’t Ryan Arnold do the exact same thing in his article (albeit from the opposite side of the ideological spectrum) by questioning and disparaging the national dialogue about marriage equality because of its binarized, hetero-centric conception of wedlock? Both question the growing support of marriage equality for gay men and women. These informed, well-argued points are absolutely necessary to synthesize a multi-vocal, multi-lateral understanding of marriage and its farther reaching implications in the fight for gay rights. Rick Santorum, though, adds nothing to this conversation.

To what extent do we allow for the ‘right to hate’ at educational institutions? And how do we even define hate? The answers continue to elude me, but they might be best approximated by open and honest academic discussion. Whether at Amherst or in Grosse Pointe, the dialogue on the effect of marginalizing language in schools should be kept at that – a dialogue. In this ongoing and tricky discourse, it should be obvious to educators to exclude irrelevant bigotry, while being careful not to silence or preemptively “debunk” coherent (if offensive) counterpoints.