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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Editorial: The stewardship of ideas

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A few years ago, I went to dinner with my parents at a hunting club they had recently joined in Chappaqua, New York. It was the Campfire Club of America, which some may know as the hunting and conservation club established in 1904 that was frequented by the likes of Gifford Pinchot and Teddy Roosevelt.

Its history had piqued my interest, but the club’s reputation quickly tarnished in my mind when I learned from my parents that females were not allowed to join. Women could visit but couldn’t be members, they explained. My dad was a member. My mom and I were guests.

I was pissed. Just because Pinchot or Roosevelt–or some other hoity-toity famous old white dude–had been there a century ago, did that mean we had to still live like it was 1904?

Knowing I was perturbed by the policy, my dad flagged me over to a conversation he was having with one of the older members. He inquired casually about the all-male rule. “C’mon, can’t my daughter join?”

“Nope. She can’t,” the man replied resolutely. I stood next to my dad, furious but uncertain of what to do or say. I wanted to stick out my tongue and yell, “you suck!” (Or some other more offensive expletive), but instead—like a good little girl—I blushed and smiled politely. Someone changed the subject.

I grew up in a politically and often socially conservative suburb of New York City. Without digging too much into my own political sentiments, I’ll say that I certainly feel more comfortable in the largely left-leaning Carleton community.

But even though I’m confident in my beliefs, I still wonder: What should I have said to that man who made me so angry?

Thinking about the Viewpoint theme this week, hometowns, and the theme from two weeks ago, political correctness, I sometimes worry at Carleton that we forget we all come from distinct personal histories and backgrounds.

Yes, it’s probably fair to say Carleton leans left, but doing so also blankets the campus in one beige color of sameness. I worry about those who feel they don’t fit into the beige blanket. I worry we’re so focused on saying the right thing—on not offending anyone—that some of us don’t say anything. I worry about the cumbersome term “political correctness.” I worry about dogmatism.

Last Friday, CORAL published its “Disorientation Guide: Accepted Student Edition.” The topics covered in the booklet, such as using gender pronouns and the dangers of cultural appropriation, were salient and pertinent.

But at the risk of critiquing the writing of some of the most vocal students on campus (they are, after all, activists), I’ll admit that the way in which many of those issues were discussed irked me. The use of all-capitals, the embedded subordinating language… Through these elements, I sensed a great contempt and disdain in the writing for some anonymous reader or perpetrator.

How might a prospective student, who has potentially never heard of such things as gender pronouns or cultural appropriation, feel when reading that guide? I do not intend to pick on CORAL. I’ve sensed this in other writing about equity on campus as well, and it leads me to question how exactly we should talk and write about these issues. How can we productively talk with those who hold different opinions than our own? How we can converse when we’re convinced another person is wrong and we are right (even if that is the case)?

Which is all to say: I think we need to be wary of fighting insensitivity with insensitivity. Or with aggression, or recrimination, or any response that effectively silences the voice of another person with the roar of our own.

Personally, I want to learn how to respond in a situation like the one I encountered two years ago at that hunting club, and I don’t think we have to go as far as Chappaqua, New York to do that. Carleton isn’t a beige blanket; that can happen right here, and it should.

After our four-year stint in this community, we’re going to be entering larger and more foreign communities, and then it’s anyone’s game. Then the likelihood of us encountering individuals with values that contrast, or even conflict with, our own will certainly increase.

It doesn’t matter the issue: cultural, racial, environmental, ethical, political. For the sake of the Carleton community, for the sake of ourselves and of the places we go beyond here, we need to learn how to be, not authoritarians of ideas, but stewards.

College is such a fascinating time of flux. It’s a good time to be thinking about these things, a nice incubation period to experiment. As you read this week’s Viewpoint section, I hope you think about where you come from, where you’re going, and just how disparate–or how similar–those places are for each of us.


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