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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The State of Campus Discourse

<ywhere you walk, chances are that you will find a poster announcing an event, where you come for the food but stay for the conversation with a speaker or facilitators. It may be also likely that you get an invitation on Zimbra or Facebook for the same kind of activities. Given the plethora of campus organizations, activist groups, and College institutions, it is even more likely that you will be drawn to participate in the discourse. That is, conversations over the most pressing issues that go beyond the walls of the Carleton monastery. Many eyes peer and ears strain over these walls, and so we see the result in the many opinions that appear, most of them being our own.
I will not deny that the state of campus discourse at Carleton is going along robustly – we are nearing the end of Prison Reform Week, and the past few convocations have been lined up to discuss the issue of race for Black History Month. However, there has been a strange thing absent at some events that has been brought to my attention. Rather, it is not something, but someone. Actually, it is certain people.

At a past OIIL dinner several weeks ago in Stimson, I heard this comment: that the people who were present at the event were the “same” people that came to many events concerning discussions on ethnic and racial topics. This person went further to explain that the people who didn’t come were the people who were not affected when it came to these topics. At least in my interpretation, they were the people who did not receive the short stick when it came to issues such as discrimination and the like. Now that I think about it, I have been circular with this explanation, and it would be disservice to write in such a manner. So simply put, there were not many white students in the room, which at the time was filled with non-white students.

A similar parallel came from a conversation with a colleague. This colleague of mine was involved with transgender discussions, and noted to me that there were few or no allies at meetings, especially those who were not transgender. This was upsetting to my colleague, who really wanted more people outside of the inner circle to take part in the meetings. From here a pattern can appear. Although it is tenuous to draw from these few observations, two things can be seen: that (1) those who take part in discourse over contemporary issues are those being directly affected by them and have a stake in them, and (2) those who do not take part of them do not associate any stake in them.

This is troubling, mainly because these discussions do not become as inclusive as possible. It is not that various events are exclusive, but that those whose voices are not necessarily involved do not include themselves, likely because that they do not see any reason to do so. We are called to listen to what we are not aware of, of what we do not understand. This is not just another liberal-arts exhortation, but a more basic calling, one that has guided us throughout our lives since we learned how to walk and talk.

Thus, it is ideal for heterosexual and cisgendered allies to take part of transgender discussion groups, or for white students to sit in on a talk on race with those of other racial identifications. And the same can be said for conservatives to attend CarlDems meetings, liberals to College Republican meetings, and even (if they do exist) supporters of the petroleum industry in the Climate Justice Coalition! To quote a recent issue of the CLAP, “we came to learn about things that are much greater and more important and more interesting than we are.”

Moving on from here, it would be too simple to deduce from so few observations that more Carleton students need to listen in on discussions and debates on topics that they have never had to deal with before. Doing so would waste your time. Because in reality, just because people aren’t involved with campus-wide discussions does not mean nobody takes part of the greater discourse overall.

To begin with, we are well aware of prioritization being different for every person on campus. It would be ever more ideal, not only as the model enlightened college student, but also that of the enlightened individual, to take part in everything, but as my sleep patterns have revealed, there simply is not enough time. (Although I have been meaning to come visit the GSC more, among many other things that I would like to take part of.)

Lately, we turn to the internet by ourselves for taking part of discussions, especially on a more global stage. But for all the wealth of knowledge that we can now share on Facebook under UpWorthy links or New York Times articles, we find ourselves part of the continuing fragmentation of our society. We have continued to fragment ourselves to conform to what our friends post that align with our view, threating our ability to entertain what is outside our view. It is a new tribalization, but this time of the intellectual sort.

Even with our internet selves climbing into their ivory towers, the flesh-and-blood world still has vibrancy. One need not look too far, and it is here at Carleton that we still have all voices taking their place in discourse, despite my own observations. I sat through a Chili Night for Prison Reform Week that I wish could have lasted longer – and I am sure no one would have minded that, given that the discussion flowed so strongly. The fact that the tables had to be removed for more seats was telling – people (of every station) genuinely wanted to take part in this discussion. Not to mention there are little discussions that go on everyday here, from dinner table chats to spontaneous dorm floor debates.

The state of discourse, is thusly still healthy, and I applaud all student leaders that have taken initiative throughout their lives here at Carleton to keep it so, from leading discussion, to even showing up. As with everything that we are able to enjoy, the onus is on us to keep seeking what we do not know, to scrutinize, to understand. And this goes for everyone, no matter where we are from or what we have done. Or, as Voltaire wrote, “let us cultivate our garden” – our blooming garden of discourse.

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