Thursday, June 14, 2007

Social Injustice: Part 1

And after that, one of the most political posts I've ever written.

During the last year at my college a group of students decided to form a group to protest what they called “social injustices” on our campus. These essentially boiled down to racism and sexism. The main protest was a organized walk-out on classes. (Organized is debatable here since the e-mail announcing the walk-out was sent to the student body at midnight the night before.) Due to the early lack of turnout (perhaps, at least in part, due to the lack of organization?) the leaders decided to enter classrooms and verbally ask students already in class to leave. They came into my first class, demanded to be heard, stayed beyond the time given them by the professor and several of them refused to leave when asked. Fortunately, some who were more level-headed took control and they did leave. As it so happened, we were preparing for a test and the disruption was extremely unwelcome.

Naturally there was a great deal of discussion about this event among the student body. Interestingly, most of it was fairly negative. Even those, like myself, who would normally support the goals of the group were turned off by their approach. Many people felt that their entering classrooms and disrupting the classes went beyond the pale.

So what went wrong? Several things. First, there was no organization whatsoever. As far as I could tell, the whole thing was completely last minute. I only received the e-mail that morning and honestly, I laughed. If you’re trying to rouse college students you’ve got to think ahead a little more.

Second, their approach, both in actions and verbally, created an “us/them” situation. If you were really concerned about those issues you would walk out with us. If you stayed you obviously were condoning the issues they were so heroically fighting against. They especially alienated professors, both because of their entry into and disruption of classes and because they were downright rude. They turned the professors into enemies when they did not have to be. They tried to guilt people into joining them. And finally, they had a complete lack of respect and knowledge of the situation. For an example, look at the class I was in. We were preparing for an important test and we needed the review. The group that came in did not know this and did not ask. The professor gave them three minutes to give their speech. They took five. She said later that she was torn between wanting to give them a fair hearing and knowing that they were interrupting something important. After three minutes none of us had gotten up to join them. In fact, most of us were sending death-glares at them.

Because of all of these issues many people that might otherwise have joined the group didn’t. We stayed seated, not because we condoned racism and sexism, but because we did not want to identify ourselves with the group—not the individual people, but the tactics.

Part 2 tomorrow

No comments: