Editorial: Attending a meeting at Laurier Society for Open Inquiry

Have you heard of the Laurier Society for Open Inquiry (LSOI)? It’s a club that Lindsay Shepherd recently started with a handful of undergraduate students. On her twitter account, she describes it as “a club to promote the open exchange of ideas”.

As more information about the Shepherd controversy was released, I found myself increasingly in the camp that disapproved of Shepherd’s actions and the way they were portrayed in the media. I didn’t have high expectations for LSOI, but for the sake of being fair, I decided to attend their first meeting and tried to be open before drawing conclusions.

On the evening of Jan. 31, I trekked across campus to the science building.
Shepherd and some of the club executives stood by the door. They smiled at me as I went in.

Inside, the large hall was a little over half full.
The audience was mostly composed of male students. Some Laurier faculty members and non-Laurier students were in attendance as well. Many of them were dressed nicely and there was a sense of excitement in the air.

After Shepherd and the executives introduced themselves and the club, they moved to the projector to set up.
The audience settled in for the focus of the meeting — a full screening of the The Agenda’s episode on Bill C-16.

“Hey Anton [one of the club executives]”, Shepherd interjected coyly, “is heckling allowed?”

To heckle means to interrupt the presentation with jeering, cheering or applause. According to the executives, heckling was not only allowed, but encouraged. This caused a wave of laughter to ripple over the audience.

Despite that however, most of the episode was watched in a respectful silence.
When it finished the executives turned on the lights. Anton peeked through the door and jokingly congratulated the other executives for “playing a full Jordan Peterson clip without SJWs bursting into the lecture halls”.

The executives then opened the floor for discussion, which to me consisted of familiar sentiments about how “the radical left can’t handle rational debate,” and how “neo-Marxist ideology is overtaking campus.” At about the 30-minute mark, I left.

I think I get it. This is a group of students with divergent views who feel unsafe expressing their opinions in the classroom or on campus.
And LSOI is a space for this minority group to exercise their freedom of speech in a “constructive” manner. It helps them gain visibility on campus.

While those things are good, it’s hard to believe that this “free speech club” will ever generate meaningful debate.
For example, I doubt a student who supports Bill C-16 would feel comfortable speaking up after listening to the audience cheer on Jordan Peterson for an hour, or hearing the club’s moderators constantly crack jokes about “social justice warriors”.

Maybe I am drawing premature conclusions — this is only LSOI’s first event. But I firmly believe that free speech is not enough to bridge the gap between polarized groups on campus.

The quality of the discourse — whether multiple perspectives are represented, whether the conversation is moderated in a sensitive way that encourages people to contribute their opinions — makes the difference. If this first meeting is indicative, I don’t think LSOI will challenge the opinions of it’s members.
It’ll only help them disappear further into the rabbit hole of their own pre-existing ideas.

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