Once a year, usually around graduation season, I sit down and pen a letter to the graduates of my alma mater, the University of Central Oklahoma. The idea for this year’s letter has been sitting with me for a few months. It stems from an incident that occurred earlier this year at UCO but is a part of a larger conversation happening on college campuses nationwide.
Earlier this year, Ken Ham, the founder of Answers in Genesis was scheduled to speak at UCO. UCOSA, receiving pressure from some LGBTQ+ groups and others, rescinded his invitation to the university and then, thanks to media attention and pressure from lawmakers, was invited back to UCO by President Betz. Now, if you are unfamiliar with Ham’s work, I will give you a short synopsis thanks to Wikipedia.
“Ken Ham is an Australian-born Christian fundamentalist and young Earth creationist living in the United States. He is president of Answers in Genesis, a Creationist apologetics organization that operates the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter. Ham advocates biblical literalism, believing that the Book of Genesis is historical fact and the universe of approximately 6,000 years old, contrary to scientific evidence which shows the Earth is about 4.5 billion years old and the universe is about 13.8 billion years old.”
As a millennial, college graduate, I understand fully the frustration of having to continually debate things we know to be true. I understand the pain of not being accepted for who you are. I understand the bible being used as a weapon against you and those you love/support. Ham is far from the only person traveling the country trying to drum up controversy in an attempt to further his message. He is counting on outrage. He needs it to get people into seats. Without it, he is nothing more than a man selling snake oil for migraines. He, and others like him, know the youth of today are more connected, tolerant, and educated than any generation who came before them. He knows you will see injustices in this world and demand something be done. He is fully prepared to use the first amendment and the status of public institutions to spread his message. He wants you to believe that you don’t have a choice. You absolutely have a choice. Students everywhere have a choice.
Our institutions of higher learning are fertile ground for the meeting of ideas; even those ideas where we assume debate to be over. To do so, it to pay homage to Aristotle who once said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Our institutions of higher learning can invite the Ken Ham’s of the world without endorsing their arguments. As students, you can refuse to fill their lecture halls and auditoriums. You can stage disobedience by hosting discussions of your own about evolution, the scientific method, god of the gaps, and LGBTQ+ history. You can use what is learned in the classroom to make a louder and more convincing argument. Free speech works both ways. Don’t be afraid to use it.
Ultimately, UCO made the right choice by allowing Ken Ham to speak on campus. When the white-nationalist comes behind him or someone who doesn’t believe in feminism, they should be allowed to speak too. My hope, as a proud Broncho alum, is that our students will be ready. They will be armed with data, research, and open heart toward their fellow man. With those weapons at our side, no one can stand in the way of truth.
Be good to each other,
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