It is April and Thanksgiving is unseasonably on my mind. Yes, this is our favorite holiday with family, old friends, and the inspiring students who joined us this year—a moment for expressing our gratitude for how fortunate we are.
And yet, in an age when we appear more opinionated about what we are against than what we are for, when we worry more about our kids marrying someone of a different political party than we do about any other social identity, the national media reports that those of us hosting Thanksgiving face a special challenge.
We struggle with the risk that a heated political discussion will ruin the occasion. Many hosts pursue one of two options. Either we invite only like-minded people, and exclude otherwise acceptable guests to avoid an unpleasant conflict. Or we include people of different political viewpoints and then ban political discussion as off-limits.
During the Family Weekend Town Hall a couple of years ago, I pointed out that each of these choices gets it wrong. We shouldn’t exclude family and friends from our most inclusive holiday that is about gratitude on the basis of their political views. And even though we may think we are being more inclusive in the second approach, the choice to self-censure the dinner discussion excludes some part of us from freely expressing ourselves at the table.
We have a third choice, I observed, as a modest social foundation for an inclusive, engaged, participatory democracy. We can commit to model and inculcate the intellectual and social commitments and skills to speak freely, listen actively, debate with respect, learn through and across our differences, reach deeper levels of common understanding, engage in effective dialogue, and collaborate on the solutions to our most complex and controversial problems. That is how we get more unum from our pluribus.
Following these comments, a couple of parents approached me. “Hiram, we have to tell you the story of our Thanksgiving last year. We decided we would invite guests who had very conflicting perspectives about politics, and we encouraged people to talk about their views.” “How did you do that?” I asked. They replied, “our son, who is a first-year student at CMC, moderated our table discussion!”
We should all seize a moment of inspiration from this story, as it both reflects and transcends the core principles, clear policies, and public recognition of the College’s commitments: our adherence to the Chicago Principles on freedom of expression, our policy rating of Green from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (the only institution in liberal arts education and the State of California), and our No. 1 liberal arts ranking (and No. 2 overall) for viewpoint diversity in the Heterodox Academy rankings. It also inspires our investments in the programs, courses, and people highlighted in these pages, under the umbrella of an increasingly Open Academy.
From our richly diverse Athenaeum programs to the superb co-teaching in the University Blacklist; from our impressive podcast group, Free Food for Thought, to our outstanding student-leaders, like Zenaida Huerta ’20; from the open debates in the dorms and the classroom to dialogue training for orientation and student leaders, we live, eat, and breathe this vital educational imperative of our time.
Thank you each and all for joining and supporting us.