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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Assholes or allies? Let’s make up our minds

<ir="ltr">Throughout my college search, I knew that I wanted to find a liberal arts college campus where intellect and open-mindedness stand paramount to polarized, politicized thinking. Despite my progressive worldview, I did not want to find myself in an echo chamber; I wanted to learn from my future peers’ different perspectives. I had been told time and time again that Carleton College was the place for me, especially with respect to its discursive environment.

During New Student Week, I greatly appreciated my peer leaders’ hard work in running impactful orientation programming. In particular, the #CarlTalks on different facets of identity made it clear to me that this campus strives to feel like home for each and every one of its students. New Student Week seemed to have sealed the deal for me; I thought that my peers would get me. Welcome me. Want to have late-night conversations with me, in order to learn more about where we came from and what talents we brought to Northfield. This, however, proved illusory beyond those first talks in the Rec Center.

Since the middle of New Student Week, I have heard my peers joke around about sensitive topics, primarily concerning identity, safe spaces, and a perceived threat to “free speech.” Imagine these lines, in an eerily sarcastic tone:

“Did that trigger you?”

“Oh sorry, did I just assume your gender?”

Or these questions, asked in a confused, self-righteous tone:

“Does everyone here have PTSD?”

“Why do we need all these safe spaces?”

It did not take long for me to realize that many of my first-year peers were insanely quick to judge the intention behind the #CarlTalks. Did Carls of privileged identities feel left out by the College’s diversity programming? More importantly, in my opinion, did Carls of privileged identities take even a second to try to understand the different experiences from which people were coming? One great exercise in critical thinking is to challenge our assumptions and biases by imagining what the same experience is like–being in the same room, with the same people, engaging in the same conversation—from someone else’s shoes, and all the baggage that might come with it. Seems apt for a liberal arts environment, no?

I have found it shocking that this practice is not intuitive. If anything, this is what we mean in our attempts to build a diverse, inclusive campus community. But we are just not doing it enough––putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes, considering the implications, and listening without interrupting one another.

Further, I have noticed that many of my relatively privileged peers––students who come to Carleton pre-insured by American institutions–– are set off by “buzzwords” in contemporary higher education, even without any prerequisite knowledge. I need to preface: at the same rate, many Carls were not exposed to social difference and diversity programming in high school, and that’s simply a matter of consequence. That said, it seems that we are quicker to condemn political correctness, trigger warnings, safe spaces, and attacks on free speech than we are to define and, above all, understand these terms. But this is America, dammit!

However, no one’s America is the same as another’s, just as no one’s Carleton is the same. Ironically, though truthfully, there is no universality in shared spaces. And that’s OK. It pains me to think that there are Carls who worry about whether they belong here, solely because of their identities. In an effort to flip that self-doubt on its head, I cannot help but ask my peers of relative privilege: What did you think you were getting into when you chose Carleton? Did you expect to stick to people who appear and identify in the same ways that you do? Did you think that a rigorous education had nothing to do with exposure to diversity?

Ultimately, I see a culture of hypocrisy at Carleton: a disconnect between New Student Week programming and behind-closed-doors disregard for said programming. This is not about an excessively “PC” culture with a threat to free speech; it’s about decency in a residential community. So, Carleton, let’s make up our minds here. If this is our home for the most formative years of our lives, we ought to make it feel like home–not just for ourselves, but for all of those around us as well. And that means putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes. Having a meal with someone new. Heck, maybe with someone who seems different from us. It means attending Convo or a lecture on a provocative idea. Maybe even asking a question at the end.

Making Carleton feel like home necessitates stretching ourselves, even if this means listening to ideas that challenge the assumptions by which we lived before arriving on campus. At the end of the day, we are here to learn and grow, and the first steps in that process are to listen to each other and think about all the newness.

Ross is a Class of 2020 CSA Representative and a member of the Civil Discourse Living-Learning Community.

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