As an immigrant from El Salvador, I celebrate the inclusiveness implied by the name and mission of the International House Philadelphia (IHP). I fled a country where progressive societal attitudes and governmental policies opposed racial inclusivity and intellectual diversity.
Validating my celebration were IHP President and CEO Tanya Steinberg’s words, which boasted the IHP's promotion of “intercultural understanding, and contribut[ion] to ... personal and professional development,” while providing a “forum for dialogue and communication between people of all cultures on topics ranging from art to science...and a destination for tens of thousands of visitors each year.”
With relief comparable only to the feeling of no longer having to fear the constant political violence, lingering danger and ravenous intimidation of my former country, I rejoiced over Steinberg’s declaration that the IHP “uniquely offers … the opportunity to become engaged in a variety of new experiences...work in a progressive environment, and truly be a global citizen…all in the context of developing a greater understanding of the American experience.”
The organization seems to afford the option of hope and possibility for coexistence amongst humankind. However, these pronouncements of inclusive diversity more resemble the desperate cries of Utopianism. Meanwhile, despite their claims of being “a vehicle to facilitate international understanding and dialogue,” some of the leadership’s actions appear to be vehicles of the progressive Left’s intellectual intolerance.
Recently, in hopes of returning as a second-time paying-customer, I sought to rent a venue from the IHP for our "Giving Voice" event, featuring Jennifer Stefano, a conservative feminist and Pennsylvania’s state director for Americans for Prosperity. My organization -- Students for Intellectual Freedom National (SIFNA) -- intended to feature Stefano to highlight the importance of women’s voices in politics and society. SIFNA wanted Stefano to represent the point of view of a significant segment of American women before the IHP and greater Philadelphia communities.
A key point of this presentation was to amplify awareness of the tools of suppression the progressive Left uses to stifle and shut down the voice of conservative feminism. This theme must have stuck in the throats of IHP's progressives, given their idea of "tolerance," which is only afforded only to those they consider to be “alternative” voices. Progressive tolerance does not extend to mainstream “conservative” ideas because the Left judges conservatives as always intolerant. Therefore, in true cultural Marxist fashion, it is tolerant to be intolerant of those whom one considers “intolerant.”
IHP appears to believe that the only authentic voice representing issues of interest to women, racial, cultural and sexual-gender minorities must fall in line with a Leftist, Marxist-based point of view. Progressives cannot seem to accept that a black or female conservative position is authentic as well, and they often target such people for exclusion in a way that can only be labeled McCarthyist. I wanted to imagine that IHP could not possibly be an example of progressive intolerance. As I learned, that was just wishful thinking.
After clearing a date and time for the venue for Stefano's talk with a representative from IHP, I set about the process of planning, which included writing up some promotional materials. The following day, IHP's Director -- Mr. Parker -- informed me that my request was canceled because of preliminary communications on my part regarding the event, stating that “You can’t promote the event location if it isn’t confirmed, and certainly can’t imply our participation as a host.” It was unclear how Mr. Parker became aware of any pre-promotional activities.
Striving to fully understand their processes and establish a long-lasting relationship with IHP, I asked to be shown the specific policy that clearly states that pre-promoting an event is grounds for canceling requests for space.
His response: “First of all, the fact that you don’t even have an agreement from us is part of the point. We reserve the right to hold or cancel any request for our venue. I will not respond any further to this. The matter is closed.”
I understand their right to hold or cancel any request for their venue. However, Mr. Parker did not even consider addressing my proposal to start clean, having the event later. I have yet to see a policy of pre-promotion as a basis for cancellation in writing as opposed to being based on “common understanding,” in the words of Mr. Parker.
It is my opinion that the sudden change cannot be accounted for by the issue of pre-promotion, but that Mr. Parker had gotten cold feet due to the subject matter not falling in line with the ideological monopoly of the progressive Left, dominant at IHP. It seems that the IHP seeks to establish an intellectual dictatorship over the arena where competing ideas and debate are supposed to freely flow and thrive.
Question: If IHP cannot take the time to entertain this foreigner's request for information to help me understand their processes so that, moving onward, I can do everything per IHP's policies, how audacious is their suggestion to anyone in Philadelphia (or the world) that they are welcoming to others’ “global” and diversely multicultural ideas and opinions?
Question: How dangerous is it for such veto-power to fall unto Mr. Parker, an individual, who evidently believes that if one’s personal understanding of “common understanding” does not fall in line with his personal opinion of what "common understanding" is, the matter is closed?
Question: Does Mr. Parker represent the progressive Left’s view of what a climate that values the free-flow of ideas and civil discourse looks like?
Moreover, the same woman who showed me the available schedule later informed me that no such availability existed. Her manner suggested that she was fearfully carrying out a directive from above.
My family sought the United States for its liberty, notions of intellectual freedom and tolerance, life, and the opportunity to contribute to a country that afforded us a second chance, in the absence of progressive suppression. When I sought Pennsylvania as my home, I never thought I would find little El Salvador deep in the heart of Mr. Parker’s International House Philadelphia.
A close friend asked whether I had already burned my bridges with IHP, for if I had not, writing this article would certainly make impossible any future work with them. “Human nature,” he said, adding, “And they will dig in their heels. Not a good idea if some of the fault was yours.”
This was tough to respond to because I have admitted that part of the responsibility was mine because I was not aware of Mr. Parker’s “common understanding” of non-pre-promotion.
The damage is done, apparently irreversibly. I would rather not be welcomed at IHP and let the principle of Giving Voice triumph than choose silence and acquiescence to progressive intolerance.
In light of the recent, blatant intellectual intolerance which Ayaan Hirsi Ali has experienced, as Brandeis University rescinded an honorary degree in Social Justice (of all things) after “discovering” that this fighter for women’s rights had some enemies on the Left because of her criticism of Islam, we must assert the following: It is more urgent than ever to stand up for the virtue of alternative voices and the keys they afford us to closed, unexplored, unexamined areas and ideas of life.
Voices do not need venues to be heard and celebrated, as Ms. Ali has proven over the last few weeks. Venues like IHP, however, do need to celebrate all voices, to remain in truth the champions of inclusiveness and intellectual diversity they claim to be.
We must vigorously enter the debate on the side of intellectual freedom to foster an open intellectual environment, countering all atmospheres contaminated by intellectual intolerance.
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