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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Out of Order: Living Out Our Mission

The current Grinnell drug policy is flawless. Office365 is completely secure and presents no risks to students. The institutional identity project is transparent and warranted. And need-blind admissions? Irrelevant to the central values of this institution.

Okay, so I obviously don’t actually believe all of those things. But if I did, I would be excoriated on this campus.

Grinnell’s mission statement portrays us as a college where “free inquiry and the open exchange of ideas” are fostered. It states that Grinnell aims to “graduate individuals who can think clearly … evaluate critically both their own and others’ ideas … and who are prepared in life and work to use their knowledge and their abilities to serve the common good.”

This sounds reasonable enough. I admit that I didn’t read our mission statement before deciding to come here, but if I had, I would’ve been impressed and honored to have been accepted at a school with such a mission. The statement’s words of open exchange, critical and clear thinking and service of the common good would have resonated with me (and still do). They depict a place where all voices are heard, where reason and equal exchange are central.

Both inside and outside the classroom, I observe this mission statement being lived out every day. We Grinnellians are largely good at putting the College’s mission into practice. In one area, however, we students seem to lose sight of our values of critical thinking and open exchange: discourse regarding College administration and policy changes.

I can’t think of a single time when a top-down policy change—or even a proposed top-down policy change—hasn’t been met with fierce resistance by the student body. The administration tries to engage with us, holding town halls and setting up public comment forums, but we do not utilize these means as much as we ought. While we profess to be passionate enough about certain issues that we are willing to voice our discontent, we often do not do so productively, frustrating the administration’s efforts and making it less likely that our voices will be received well.

The institutional identity project, the subject of my last column, is one recent example of this. Student involvement has been present at all levels of the project, but some, including the staff of this publication, still bemoan the lack of transparency. There will be future opportunities for student engagement, but the level of that engagement remains to be seen.

At some level, I suppose that none of this is worth saying. We’re college students—we’re supposed to hate “the man,” we’re supposed to protest, we’re supposed to circulate petitions and write letters to the editor and participate in sit-ins. I have heard many speak of how this school is especially suited to this kind of behavior: “well, of course there will be a protest, this is Grinnell.” This kind of attitude, while more common in our demographic, is particularly applicable to us; it’s what makes Grinnell different.

But what if we Grinnell students could be different in a different way? Instead of reacting to even the most minuscule of administrative actions with skepticism if not outright condemnation, we might instead take time to consider the issue at hand, think critically about it and respond with a measured but forceful message. This approach will win the respect of administrators and other students alike, and it will set us apart from our peers at other institutions.

I’m not saying debate shouldn’t take place. One of the things I love about Grinnell is that we students care about this College so much that we are willing and eager to speak our minds when we feel the College is headed in the wrong direction. I believe the spirit of our reactionary tendencies reflects well on Grinnell. However, when put into practice, our sometimes poorly thought-out responses end up doing more harm than good.

By channeling our reactionary anger impulses into the kind of critical evaluation that our mission statement describes, we could create a far more productive environment for discussion on this campus. Instead of reacting to every change from above with impassioned anger, we might be more measured, employing the “free inquiry,” critical evaluation and “open exchange” that our mission describes.

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