By Anthony J. Toumazatos ’25 (DCI Fellow)
I was recently posed the question: “Why do you think the DCI’s role on campus is so important today”? It was a seemingly straightforward question that floated through the sneakily warm winter air but pierced towards the heart of our mission.
I took a moment to collect my thoughts. There was much to say, but I ultimately landed on the fact that we foster an environment where one can feel safe feeling uncomfortable. I acknowledge that this initially sounds paradoxical, but this phenomenon is as important in society and college campuses as ever right now.
Today, as a whole, we are uncomfortable with being uncomfortable. The complex issues that our society inevitably must confront are avoided in general discourse and in our supposed hubs of advancement. It is a general trend that the people we converse with or the information we digest are increasingly from sources that share our political orientation. People are hesitant or even fear to express their opinion on certain topics out of a concern about being judged as immoral by their peers.
To truly understand the critical importance of being uncomfortable in our discourse, we can turn our heads back to our nation’s past. A shining example that comes to mind is Frederick Douglass’s speech “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” In the speech, Douglass decries the hypocrisy of venerating our nation’s freedom when the peculiar institution of slavery plows on. It was addressed to a crowd of white citizens, and to whom Douglass asked poignantly, “What have I, or those I represent, have to do with your national independence?”
Through interactions like this one, which made many people quite uncomfortable, we were able to undeniably better our country. This is one of countless examples that one can draw upon. So keeping in mind how much good and social progress has come from intellectual discomfort, it is paramount that we do not turn our back on it.
In our small corner of the world, the DCI is doing this work. We confront difficult issues, and encourage students, alumni, and community members alike to do so as well. In our deliberations, we foster an environment where participants can feel comfortable sharing their views, and can guarantee that ideas are grappled with in a respectful manner.
The great Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once said that “the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.” The DCI serves as a valuable intermediary that promotes the exchange of ideas in an effective manner. That is why we are so important today.
Photo credit: Chesapeake Bay Program Creative Commons License