On the Planned Parenthood Controversy

Editorial  /  by William Madonia '17  /  May 12, 2017

Will Madonia '18 / The Lawrence

On Wednesday night, a conversation outside of Irwin involving a leader of the Young Republicans club grew into a debate, then bubbled over into an argument that drew a crowd of around 40 people. Faculty got involved, and students began to shout and take offense. Numerous problems with Lawrenceville’s administration, student organizations, and school culture made this dialogue fail. We must address these issues so that the sanctity of discussion, described by Dean of Students G. Blake Eldridge, Jr. ’95 as “Lawrenceville’s center of gravity,” can be preserved.

As with most campuses, Lawrenceville is home to an undercurrent political tension. While the School takes pride in fostering productive dialogue, Wednesday’s debate demonstrated that many Lawrentians are not equipped to approach the controversial with steady words and an open heart, to discuss personal convictions without feeling entitled to make things personal.

Although fundraising is an integral aspect of enacting social change, monetary interests should never take precedence over raising awareness and support. In offering a dress-down day in exchange for donating to and publicly supporting Planned Parenthood, the Young Democrats club created a space where students could don a Planned Parenthood pin not because they hold an educated and sincere opinion on the matter but because they simply want to dress down.

No matter what the cause may be, fundraising based on incentives ruins an opportunity for altruistic giving to occur. This problem often goes overlooked, as most examples of incentivized fundraising have been in support of bipartisan issues like humanitarian crises. When the issue at hand is partisan, however, dress-down fundraising arms everyone with a label (in this case, a pin) and a potentially uninformed opinion. Although many people on campus are indeed informed on Planned Parenthood, the fundraiser is not structured to inform those who are not. Thus, the dialogue that ensues can be hollow and polarizing and is not emblematic of the quality discussions that Lawrenceville claims to foster. The administration should take responsibility and apologize for allowing the Young Democrats to fundraise this way, especially on a partisan issue.

The Young Republicans club responded by organizing a dress-up day, exacerbating the situation. Although the administration sloppily mishandled a partisan fundraising event, the administration itself is nonpartisan. Thus, the Young Republicans club could easily have asked to sell pins of their own for a dress-down day against Planned Parenthood or asked the administration to affirm a nonpartisan stance. Instead, the Young Republicans asked their members to “take a stand against Planned Parenthood” by dressing up, turning an opportunity for side-by-side conversation into a day of head-on political opposition. Some members of Young Republicans have said that the initiative was intended to show conservative pride. Even so, the way the Young Republicans have handled this situation merits little to be proud of.

With all these factors at play, it’s no wonder tensions bubbled over on Wednesday night. While the dialogue was far from productive, there is much to learn from how the conversation ended, including how faculty should mediate these discussions. Once faculty, for example, argued the liberal perspective before the students, and when one student called the Young Republicans’ initiative an “asshole move,” the faculty stood by and did nothing to moderate the situation. The conversation turned personal, and soon devolved into a shouting match between an offended liberal and an crass and defensive group of conservatives.

The solution to these problems is not to create a safe space or brush everything controversial under the rug. Rather, we must seek out conversation. We must go to tonight’s Town Hall and talk to our peers no matter how they’re dressed. We must, as Dean Eldridge said, “be collaborative, not combative; pursue discussion, not division; [..] operate in a model of compassion, not competition.”