Credit to the Trinity News, the college’s student newspaper, for an immensely entertaining report about the thought process which has led to the College Historical Society to un-invite Professor Richard Dawkins, who was scheduled to give an address to students next year:
The College Historical Society (the Hist) has tonight rescinded its invitation to Richard Dawkins to address the society next year….
Auditor of the Hist Bríd O’Donnell announced the cancellation in a statement on her Instagram page, saying that she had been “unaware of Richard Dawkins’ opinions on Islam and sexual assault until this evening”, adding that the society “will not be moving ahead with his address as we value our members comfort above all else”.
The invitation to Richard Dawkins to speak at the society was made by my predecessor and I followed up the invitation with limited knowledge of Mr. Dawkins”, O’Donnell said. “I had read his Wikipedia page and researched him briefly. Regretfully I didn’t look further into him before moving forward with the invitation.”
“I want to thank everyone who pointed out this valuable information to me”, O’Donnell added. “I truthfully hope we didn’t cause too much discomfort and if so, I apologise and will rectify it.”
She had “read his Wikipedia page”, the third paragraph of which begins with the phrase “Dawkins is known as an outspoken atheist.” But she was surprised, apparently, to learn that he’s not a huge fan of Islam, as well as not being a huge fan of Christianity.
Dawkins, is, of course, equally scathing about just about every religion. That’s fine in the case of Christianity, of course, where his views are perfectly aligned with those of the average dunce in Trinity. But criticising Islam is, of course, a big no-no.
And what has he said about sexual assault, you might ask? Well apparently it refers to two tweets he sent in 2014, in which he suggested that being drunk and unable to remember being assaulted might make it more difficult to secure a prosecution:
Is he right or wrong there? That’s a matter of opinion. Are those views so dangerous and discomfiting that students should be protected from them? Not on your life.
And what’s the point of a debating society, at the end of the day, if not to, well, debate? They’re now cancelling one of the world’s most famous authors and thinkers on the basis that the comfort of students is paramount:
In an email statement to The University Times, O’Donnell said: “I was not previously aware of the harmful statements made by Richard Dawkins. The invitation was issued in advance of this committee’s tenure, and we are deeply grateful to the members and students who brought this to our attention.”
“The comfort of our membership is paramount, and we will not be proceeding with Professor Dawkins address. I apologize for any distress caused by this announcement, and the Hist will continue to listen and adapt to the needs and comfort of students”, she added.
Ronan Lyons, a lecturer in Trinity, and a former Hist member himself, has a different, more sensible view:
This is concerning. College is not about comfort – indeed, it's arguable that one of the key things higher education does is push people outside their comfort zone, as part of the process of self-improvement. https://t.co/dKZ54MHYtn
— Ronan Lyons (@ronanlyons) September 28, 2020
That’s true, of course, but it won’t matter. And the College authorities won’t do anything. They’ve been entirely tolerant of Student Societies cancelling people year after year for some time now, so it’s not like they’ve got any good reason to make some sort of principled objection at this stage.
Anyway, one day, these students will have to leave the “comfort” of the Hist and join the real world, where they might, in a professional setting, encounter someone they disagree with fundamentally. And what will happen to them then?
We’re raising a generation of people who are unable to cope with disagreement. That’s not going to serve them well, at all.