Samantha Ewing ’23 (She/Her), Perspectives Columnist
One thing I noticed about Davidson even as a prospective student is the passion that fuels the student body. Not everyone is necessarily passionate about the same causes, but the overarching culture on campus seems to be caring and eager to make an impact. However, I think that sometimes this notion of passion can be taken too far when we assume that, merely because we feel strongly about something, we’re always correct. The negative impact I’ve witnessed as a result is the perpetuation of cancel culture among us as a community.
I first noticed cancel culture at Davidson as a new student last year. Of course, there was a high volume of emotional intensity that accompanied the 2020 presidential election, but I couldn’t help but feel a sense of unease around the comments I overheard from my peers. Anyone who raised questions about the “correct” belief to have was immediately silenced by backlash from their peers or fear of social exclusion. Though the circumstances are different now, this dynamic is still overwhelmingly present on campus.
Currently, the most obvious outlet for isolating our peers is through the social media application Yik Yak. As though slander through other channels is not harmful enough, the anonymous nature of Yik Yak has provided us with the unique platform to say hurtful things with absolutely no accountability. Recent discussions about the current and future status of Patterson Court are telling about how we as a student body tend to react less than thoughtfully to ideas we disagree with. It takes an exceptional amount of cowardice to spit venom behind the protection of a screen with no name attached. As a community, we need to recognize that cancel culture harms us as a whole both intellectually and emotionally.
Cancel culture is unproductive as it inhibits civil discourse. When our first response to new perspectives is to stifle them, we also rob ourselves of new information. Even if a new idea goes against popular opinion, we owe it to ourselves to at least consider the message. Regardless of whether or not we agree at the end of the day, we will become more well-rounded individuals by working to understand other beliefs. For instance, if the addition of new information is compelling enough to alter our conclusions, then we arrive at a new and better-informed opinion. Meanwhile, if we still find ourselves with the same stances after processing new ideas, then we become more solidified and confident in how we already think. Thus, the consideration of new perspectives can only strengthen us as intellectuals.
This dynamic goes both ways. If the desired effect is to help someone else understand why their opinion might not be widely accepted, ostracizing them will not encourage them to reconsider their views. You simply won’t see any genuine contemplation or change in the people around you if your first response to conflicting ideas is to cancel them. Not only do you deprive them of a chance to grow in their understanding of the issue, creating an atmosphere where they are excluded from the social scene at Davidson is incredibly hurtful and would be damaging to anyone’s mental health. The inclination to silence conflicting views is a reflection of the fact that we prioritize our own sense of comfort over fostering a well-informed perspective and, even still, keeping an open mind. For a small school with such a strongly advertised sense of community, we should be more intentional about how we treat others, even if they have different thoughts or opinions.
Rather than giving in to the impulse to reject what we disagree with, we should work to foster an environment that promotes more open and honest conversation. By listening and engaging in civil conversations and debates on relevant issues, we can all grow together in our beliefs. This is not to say that problematic behavior should be excused or tolerated—another critical aspect of a strong community is holding each other accountable for harmful language and actions. However, it makes me sad to see my peers ostracised just for voicing new ideas, especially when the sense of community at Davidson is a compelling factor that draws new students to campus every year. Our community will be better off if we are more intentional about fostering healthy conversations around important issues. Not only can we grow intellectually by digesting other perspectives—we can also help others do the same.
Samantha Ewing ‘23 (she/her) is an English major and communications minor from Atlanta, Georgia.