Let's Talk Controversy by Vicki Stanley

posted Nov 6, 2017, 4:15 PM by Writing Center
Controversial topics are the dividing topics most people instinctively try to avoid. In high school you may have been taught to avoid or all together not discuss certain topics that are deemed too controversial. In college, however, your professors, classmates, and peers are frequently going to prompt you to go there. Yes, there: gender, race, religion, abortion, gun control, legalization of marijuana, feminism, and an endless myriad of topics that are far too long to list. Believe me, I can relate to the struggle of writing and speaking about these sensitive topics. Some subjects may hit close to home, evoking a lot of emotions that may make it difficult to discuss the topic in a coherent and objective way. There’s even a level of fear you might feel talking about these topics—that openly discussing your stance on something such as abortion or gun control might jeopardize other’s opinions of you or your credibility among your friends, family, and peers.
 

While these concerns are understandable, it is important to remember that every person has their own opinion and it’s okay to discuss your own, even if the people around you disagree with your opinion. There is a catch to that though. Having an opinion is perfectly fine, but your opinion needs to be based upon facts and evidence, not an unfounded claim. It’s easy to get caught up in the countless videos and posts you see on social media making claims about a subject and connecting to the emotion they evoke in you. However, fact checking and researching is a must to having a full and correct understanding on any topic, controversial or not. 

Now you might be thinking, why would I bring this up? Throughout my time at UNLV as an undergraduate student, the number of students I’ve spoken to and had consultations with at the Writing Center who are reluctant and afraid to discuss controversial topics in their daily lives and in their essays, is extremely alarming. Some students don’t want to ruffle anyone’s feathers by taking a stance on a topic, others seem to prefer the safety of not choosing sides, and some have expressed their fear that discussing a controversial topic may weaken their overall argument. These concerns, especially the last one, baffled me. Are students afraid because they’ve been encouraged to avoid these topics their whole lives? Or is it that they fear that those in authoritative positions might disagree with their opinions and in some way, punish them for not sharing the same viewpoint?

On the other hand, I’ve had students want to discuss controversial topics, but only promote baseless claims, instead of researched arguments. My advice to you on writing about controversial topics in a paper is to make sure your argument is supported by evidence. Use the library database or other credible resources to research a topic and to become more knowledgeable about it—learn the facts. Don’t be afraid to write about things you’re passionate about, even if they may ruffle some feathers. Writing about a controversial topic will only hurt you if you don’t have credible evidence to support it. 

College is a place to expand your horizons, shed your ethnocentrism and begin to form your stances on highly controversial topics—to help you define who you are. Do research, read a plethora of books, articles, and journals, write, and surround yourself with a variety of people with whom you can have open-minded discourse.

 

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