Respect isn’t a passive activity. It involves a willingness to engage with the possibility that your beliefs and opinions aren’t automatically true or right, or are without the possibility of improvement. Respect requires humility, a fact we at Williams often overlook. That’s not to say we are always disrespectful, but that often civility reigns where respect should.
We are nominally liberal, but do not challenge our own views frequently enough. As a result of our unwillingness to admit fault or failure, our campus has fallen to disunity, driven in part by identity politics and the irreverently dismissive attitudes we allow ourselves to adopt. I do not mean to diminish the role of identity groups on campus; several have been instrumental to my time here, and I believe there is absolutely validity to appreciating spaces shared with people who identify similarly to you. These groups allow us to validate our concerns, maintain our sanity, and together they allow for coalitions to address issues in various ways.
However many times we equivocate attendance and affiliation, and therefore refuse to engage with opinions other than ones we already hold. This is comfortable, and understandable. Nevertheless the pervasive strength of identity politics should not get in the way of critical and independent thought. Many people claim to be liberal, but barely tolerate difference, and rarely engage with the unknown and unfamiliar in a meaningful and respectful way. We can do better.
Our campus should not allow voices to be silenced simply because they are unpopular here. We will not stay in the purple-valley forever. Our futures lie in achieving great things in the world, but only if we can maintain a healthy and rational perspective.
If we continue to expect ‘offensive’ instances to receive full-fledged institutional responses we will only be disappointed when
1) the response is inappropriately scaled, or
2) we leave campus and no longer have the “Micro-Nanny State” of the Williams College Administration and find ourselves alone in the world.
We must accept responsibility for our beliefs, and part of that includes respecting others, especially if you disagree with them. Disagreement, rather than being shunned, should be embraced as a moment when reflection can expose the weaknesses in our opinions, not so that those opinions should categorically change, but so that they can become stronger and more completely informed.
So rather than point the “privilege finger” at each other, we should accept our common privilege to be here together for a few years, and engage in difficult conversations. We should not expect our culture to progress if people can’t even overcome privilege or hardship by at least listening to each other.
Our pasts are not public until they are shared. Our futures are not determined by who we were, but rather what we are willing to actually do for ourselves. If you want something done right, do it yourself. Complaining is the first step in a series of actions that effect change, but should only be the first step. Negativity is infectious, contagious, and harmful. Stress is not the only option for success.
So loosen up, have hard conversations and hope to be offended!