May 22, 2014

Regarding the May 20 editorial “Cap, gown and groupthink”:

We and many other students at Haverford College protested the award of an honorary degree to former University of California at Berkeley chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau at our commencement ceremony on Sunday because he is at least partly responsible for the police brutality against nonviolent demonstrators during the 2011 Occupy Cal protests.

We did not protest because we did not wish to engage with opposing viewpoints — quite the opposite. At our graduation, Mr. Birgeneau was to receive the honorary degree and speak to an audience of nearly 3,000 people. Full stop. Where is the opportunity for dialogue in that scenario, except through protest?

Mr. Birgeneau withdrew, but another recipient of an honorary degree, the former president of Princeton University, William G. Bowen, took his time on the podium as an opportunity to lambast us for being “arrogant” and “immature.” Mr. Bowen’s remarks proved our point: There was no opportunity for anyone to respond to or engage with him. Far from suppressing dialogue, our actions created an opportunity for discussion that otherwise would have been lost, and we proudly stand by them.

Jon Sweitzer-Lamme and Michael Rushmore, Philadelphia

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