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Students need to listen to others in our community
March 10, 2017
The Guilford bubble is real. Ask any Guilford College student or graduate, and they will confirm. After the demonstration on March 1, I believe our community needs to reevaluate the costs and benefits of the Guilford bubble. Not only does the exclusivity of this liberal community hurt our retention rates, I believe it hinders the learning of our most liberal-minded activists on campus.
Wednesday, March 1, students gathered outside of Founders Hall in response to an alleged sexual assault on the Guilford College campus the previous evening. They convened to protest the treatment of a fellow student, who felt mistreated by Public Safety when reporting the assault. It is my opinion that the protest quickly got out of hand.
What happened on Wednesday does not reflect the reality of a world outside of the bubble.
Off this campus, the vandalism, mob mentality and misplaced anger we witnessed would not be, and should not be, tolerated. Off this campus, the students, who ripped down the core values banners on the quad and screamed at a faculty member who was just trying to do their job, would have faced serious repercussions.
Chants demanding that Todd Clark, vice president for student affairs and dean of students, and William Anderson, director of Public Safety, resign immediately were unwarranted and embarrassing. To then demand that President Jane Fernandes fire them was reprehensible.
Maybe newer students do not realize that Fernandes presents a real opportunity, particularly in the wake of our previous president. She is a more open, caring and concerned leader for our community.
Fernandes gave the protesters her time and respect. They quickly demonstrated that they did not deserve it when they yelled questions at her and then wouldn’t even let her finish her sentences in response. They lost credibility when they dismissed the efforts she had already begun to investigate the situation and when they cursed and screamed in her face. How did the protesting students expect this would help the situation?
It is not my intent to minimize the distress of marginalized communities on our campus. However, it is clear to me that misplaced anger is counterproductive.
I put a lot of thought into whether or not I should write this piece. As a senior, I have been at Guilford long enough to know that an angry backlash from the bubble is a real possibility. This is not the first time that I have felt intimidated to speak out at Guilford for fear my remarks would be strongly chastised or ignored completely. I have recently been made aware of other students who feel similarly.
Is that really the kind of bubble we want? When students believe they are so above everyone else that they do not need to listen to or respect opposing viewpoints, it is clear to me that they have decided to waste their education and their time. This is true, without doubt, of both extremes on either side of the divide in our student body.
I know that there are many students who will be angry with my comments, who will refuse to listen to me or consider my remarks. But I would like everyone to know where I come from before dismissing me.
I am deeply concerned with social justice at Guilford and in the world. I grew up with a gay father and gay and trans family members. I am very aware of the prejudice and mistreatment of these marginalized groups. I have always been taught to stand up for what I believe and for what I consider to be right and just. I was brought up in a very liberal family, and I have been disheartened by what has been happening in the world as of late.
However, as much as I disagree with a lot of the more conservative conversations I hear on campus, I am a strong believer in the idea that all speech is valid and deserves respect.
Sadly, I saw no respect on the part of the protesters last Wednesday. The behavior and language I observed will not lead to progress or understanding for any party involved. There absolutely needs to be education about LGBTIQA and race issues on campus, in our community and in the world.
It saddens me that the people protesting did not realize that their actions shut down any opportunities to open the minds of students who need to be educated about LGBTIQA communities and racism. The safe space that the Guilford bubble is meant to provide is not open or welcoming. The bubble does not encourage truly open discussions of opposing perspectives.
Guilford claims to live up to the core values of community, diversity, equality, excellence, integrity, justice and stewardship. I know that many on our campus would say that they are fooling no one into believing them. But will a protest really bring unity and progress to our community? Does a more divided student body actually lead to a safer community?
I would not for a second pretend that if we all sit in a circle with people we disagree with that we will magically find peace. Instead I think we should acknowledge that it will be a long road but Guilford is a campus that is willing to work towards this goal and President Fernandes has shown she has skills and commitment to lead us.
The Understanding Racism workshop offered on our campus is currently optional. Everyone could benefit and learn from this program, but we are lying to ourselves if we don’t admit that some on our campus need to be there more than others.
Students are paying for these programs whether or not they choose to attend. The average student spends about four years at Guilford. There is no excuse for not taking three days to attend. As I have written in reviews of the workshop since my first year, I believe that the Understanding Racism workshop be a required program for all students who want to leave with a degree from this school.
There need to be more workshops like this, educating our entire student body about the realities of life for marginalized communities. That is not something that can happen in an hour during a First-Year Seminar class. For these programs to have any real meaning and impact, students must dedicate a few days to each program. If members of the Guilford community are really committed to the core values, these programs should be given the funding they need and rightly deserve.
Moving forward, we need to challenge ourselves. We have an incredible opportunity to learn from each other if only we fostered an environment of active listening.
Guilford students are not comfortable with having their beliefs questioned. Our students will graduate into a world that seems to grow more divided by the minute. Guilford should be producing citizens who know how to bring people together, rather than adding to the divisive atmosphere.