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The Scarlet & Black

Letter to the Editor: Diversity key to social justice and development

Let me begin with the disclaimer that I could not make Silvia Federici’s talk on women and the production of the commons, nor observe the ensuing discussion. However, Vincent Kelley ’16 raised a key point in his editorial last week, which bears repetition, “Informed debate in good faith is at the heart of the liberal arts.”

I recently interacted with alumnus J. Scott Raecker ’84, who explained that during his time at Grinnell, as one of 16 students in the Campus Republican group, he had a rich opportunity for growth due to his placement in an environment where he constantly had his most basic values challenged. I was left to wonder, “How many students leave with this same perspective today?” And, Republican club? … In regards to the commons and development, I argue that given the world’s development challenges, it is crucial to be open as we seek politically-feasible and effective solutions.

I did not always hold such respect for a balanced worldview. Raised by socially concerned organic farmers, I was almost destined to become part of the polarized party. In 2012, I argued at the Peace Studies Student Conference that free trade policies have attacked small-scale producers with the violence of hunger in Guatemala. Still today, the rural Mayan producers I work with have yet to receive many benefits from macroeconomic gains brought on by CAFTA, but I now realize that trade policies are only one piece of the poverty and development puzzle. There are many more shades of grey than there are black and white answers in development work. I realize that so many actors on this spectrum of white to black solutions are seeking a common goal of development and progress.

Wind the clock back one year and I too dismissed the other side of view, presented most frequently by the stellar Sam Mulopulos ’14 in our development seminar, in an argument sure to include “property rights” and “Somalia.” My newfound appreciation for diverse opinions accompanied my return to Grinnell from six months of viewing conflicts, poverty and development in the Amazon of Bolivia and Brazil. Just one ride on Bolivia’s “Death Road” jolted me awake to the real importance of macroeconomic development in improving social welfare. Growth is not a panacea, as I have learned through my major, Poverty and Progress in the Americas, but it is a key stepping stone to development.

Today, I could not be more thankful to members of the alternative-opinion-holder (AOH) breed at Grinnell for having the courage to voice an alternative point of view, on whatever topic. We do not need to agree with someone to respect them and value their right to express their opinion. In fact, when we do not agree, we should thank others for making us more well-informed scholars, activists and world citizens. Polarized societies are created when we too readily dismiss or condemn others who see the world through another lens.

Grinnell is highly diverse, in both bodies and thoughts. However, our hub of diversity and excellence can be self-segregating, which prevents many opportunities for vigorous and honest debates. There are neoliberals on campus, but most of them just weren’t found at Federici’s talk. In a similar way, there are students and faculty working in genetic modification in the Noyce Science Center, yet I did not count many present at the recent talk by anti-GM activist, Luz Rivera Martinez. The few dissident voices brave enough to step out of the closet may feel the need to lay it on rather thick, as they realize this voice will otherwise not be heard.

I appreciate recent efforts to embrace our true diversity, including roundtable discussions, student actions (shout-out to the Unsupported Students group) and President Kington’s plan to create a more inclusive Grinnell. As part of this plan, I would like to see more opportunities for open debate and respectful discourse on contentious issues. Even more critically, I hope we can collectively reform our culture to begin to really listen to one another, appreciate opinions that differ from our own and recognize our common humanity. Diverse opinions and unique approaches are necessary to achieve Grinnell’s social justice ideal.

—Leah Marie Lucas ’14

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    J. Scott RaeckerApr 12, 2014 at 9:48 am

    Well written Leah. I enjoyed our conversation and reading your furher thoughts. Well stated.