Wednesday, March 16, 2011

It's Not Going to Be Easy

There has been a lot of talk of privilege on Skidmore's campus recently. I am inclined to dismiss that talk. Not because it doesn't exist, but because the rhetoric further isolates our campus community. As someone working hard to rebuild the broken bonds on this campus, the seemingly intangible relationships that have frayed to the point where students, faculty, and administrators do not feel comfortable on their own campus, I have mused carefully over the human to human interactions all the way up to the societal and global implications of the things I do. It is tough to draw conclusions. What purpose does our rhetoric serve? Are we educating people? Are we silencing voices? What am I doing every day to make it better? Is it good enough?

The short answer is I don't know. And neither does anyone else.

The longer answer, I believe, is far more complex than the rhetoric that says one student is privileged and another is not. My first grievance on this campus has been the automatic equivocation of privilege to race. I have yet to hear about gender, sexual orientation, ability, economics, or a myriad of other issues.

Last week's dialogue was a new and unique attempt at breaking into the collective psyche of this community. With a turnout of around 100 people, and a two hour discussion on the campus climate and how it has devolved into an unfriendly and at times unsafe place, many new issues came to light on this campus. Race was one of them. Another was the general feeling of isolation here; similarly, friends and the strength of bonds we develop here on campus were another issue. Drinking and partying were notable motifs as well.

Something that struck me about the devolution of this community, “if I were to smile and say hi to someone I didn't know on this campus, it would not be returned, and I would be thought of as weird.”

College is a shock for all of us, it is a strange new world. Some adjust faster than others, some are always adjusting, and sadder still, some never do and transfer or find themselves alone on campus. My job in the Office of Campus Life makes me privy to many great deeds of people from all walks of life on this campus. I have been struck by the dedication that students have to helping people of all types in this community. John Mendenhall has been working closely with Crystal Moore on helping mentally disabled Saratogians attend classes at our college. Freshman Class Council has been raising money to improve the Franklin Community Center which helps alleviate poverty in Saratoga. Claire Throckmorton and Joe Yanks have been working tirelessly at the Center for Sex and Gender Relations to get rid of Sexual Misconduct and the sexual inequalities of power that accompany it on our campus. And there are many more. Take one look around this campus, ask someone what they have been doing recently that has been consuming their time, and you will almost certainly hear a positive and altruistic answer.

Yet the question—and the problem—persists. If we can help all of these people, why have we been seemingly unable to help ourselves? I have heard the usual cries for rallies, for more action from the institutions, that people aren't doing enough. I don't disagree. But I think that change can come immediately. I think that change can come without a great epiphany or call to arms. I think that simple changes can make a big difference.

I spent hours as a child dissecting Aesop's famous moral: no act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. Kindness does not have to be sitting down and talking to everyone you meet. It does not mean signing over checks to everyone in need of cash.

Kindness is acknowledging the basic humanity of everyone in this world regardless of greater societal structures. As president of Conflict Resolution Club on campus, I have been working hard to take human to human interactions at all levels and turn them into productive conversations where people find the solutions that work for them.

Everyone carries pain with them. There is no way to tell whose pain is greater; whose cause is better, who is more right. We all carry pain unique to our own experiences. I say, let's start there. Let's try to understand that people are just that, people. They do not always do right by us, they also do not always do wrong. We do not have to condone, excuse, or forget. In my experience, we should open the door to forgiveness—which is not any of the previously mentioned things. It is a moral response to another's injustice; it is not reconciliation (the restoration of a relationship) but it can lead there.

It is releasing us of our pain and taking control of our futures. It is finding that place within us to face our truths, our own role in perpetuating pain, finding the harms caused, and making amends to the best of our ability. It is a radical notion, one of the most difficult things in the world, but it is also the most personally rewarding. It gives each of us as individuals the power to fix the world around us. We can, everyday, acknowledge our personal pain, and make a commitment to being human to everyone we meet that day.

I have the power to be kind to everyone I meet, to take them as they wish, and to give their pain and experiences voice. I will everyday, strive to maintain that—just for the day, until my head hits the pillow. Then, when I wake up, I will do it again.