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McDonough Misinterprets Williams Talk

McDonough Misinterprets Williams Talk

As a queer member of the MIT community, I was intrigued that Alex J. McDonough, though not a member of the MIT community, felt that he was justified in attacking the presentation which Karen Williams made at MIT during Residence and Orientation Week ["Mandatory Williams Talk Constitutes Political ŒTyranny,'" Sept. 16]. I also assume that, unlike me, Mr. McDonough did not attend the event and is lambasting the MIT administration, the sponsors of the event, and those who suggested Karen as a presenter, without actually knowing what he attacked. Otherwise, he might have both been amused by her presentation, since Karen is a very funny comic, and he might have learned something, in much the same way as the freshmen hopefully did.

It's been very interesting, over my last three years at MIT to watch the bizarre, almost fanatical attempt on the part of right-wing radicals to use the bugaboo of "political correctness" as a last ditch effort to stem the simple changes of understanding that must happen in our society in general, and in our universities in particular. It almost appeared for a while that they had a successful whipping boy, but at this point the silliness of it is evidenced by attitudes like McDonough's abject fear in the face of the "radical" agenda of tolerance and understanding which Williams espoused. It's now become clear that conservatives like McDonough simply do not understand what's being attempted by presentations like this; there is not a radical political goal, just the "tolerance" and understanding which McDonough mistakenly believes is already there.

MIT has attempted, at least through policy and also through administrative behavior at times, to form a community out of all its members. As Associate Provost for the Arts Ellen T. Harris fundamentally asserted when introducing Williams, "Difference is good; difference belongs." Karen Williams repeatedly pointed out during her presentation that she was a human being first, not a lesbian. If we don't learn what different people are genuinely like, it becomes increasingly harder to view them as people, and not as "lesbians" or "black people." I hope and believe that her presentation could easily have had an effect in that way.

Karen Williams' talk to the Class of '98 was not "political tyranny," or "the left forcing their Œpolitically correct' agenda upon others." Rather, it was evidence of MIT's continuing, and very laudable, attempt to show that the MIT community is, and must be, a community which accepts the existence and worthiness of all its members. Perhaps if McDonough were familiar with the stresses and difficulties which members of our community face, he would understand better.

Daniel G. Brown, '95