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The Scarlet & Black

Letter to the Editor: Petitioning and Politeness


letter to the editor graphic

Student petitions are an excellent apparatus: they represent the voice of students interested in achieving a common goal, through both consensus and numbers. Petitions allow students to discuss and propose changes that are important and timely. Every petition needs a certain number of signatories, however, to insure some semblance of legitimacy. Student petitions at Grinnell are no different, but students should never be shamed into signing a petition.

The way that some students have petitioned me for my signature has been disappointing and frustrating. I have been on the receiving end of outstandingly hostile behavior and questions about my own integrity for asking questions or expressing concerns with a petition, which have no place both as a potential signee of a petition and as a student at Grinnell.

Oftentimes, the petitioner and I agree on the subject at hand but for various reasons (usually conflicts of interest) I decline to sign the petition while expressing support for their cause. For example, it is a pressing and urgent issue that the college has decided to withdraw all possible Posse scholarships for students from the New Orleans Posse scholars group. I support, and I made it clear that I support, administrators and concerned students finding a conclusion in a satisfactory manner together.

Nonetheless, the student who attempted to persuade me to sign acted not only crass, but incredibly condescending about my perceived knowledge of what the New Orleans Posse would mean to Grinnell. I am fully aware of the impact that students from New Orleans would have in coming to Grinnell: I wrote the article announcing the planned changes. The assumption that I acted differently because I am ignorant suggests a type of groupthink that speaks for me without my voice.

This incident is an individual happenstance and should not be used to discredit anything that the NOLA Posse petitioners are doing and asking for, but I felt that it should be mentioned. The assumption on the petitioner’s behalf that because I am a minority student and a student of color I should feel a certain way about this issue is absurd. I am entitled to my own opinions based on my own lived experiences, as opposed to being seen as a mindless follower swept up in the current of identity politics.

In another instance, I disagreed with the goal of a petition that I was asked to sign and simply said, “I don’t agree with this petition, sorry. I don’t want to sign it.” I believe this should be enough to let me on my merry way, but instead it led to an argument about my integrity in achieving environmental goals and an accusation that I am being misled by the administration. There is no reason to have personal accusations leveled at me for my beliefs, even if I did happen to hate the environment. It’s an insidious form of silencing dissent and dissuading diversity of opinion.

For the record, I have had other bad experiences with signing petitions: putting my name on a very generic suggestion and later being tied to a course of action that I did not agree with, having bait-and-switches pulled by petitioners who promised one thing and then had me sign another or simply signing a petition so that somebody would stop following me from the Dining Hall to the Grill. Fortunately, these have been few and far between, but the negative experiences have stuck like thorns in my memory.

Frankly, I love reading about and participating in the activism of Grinnell: it’s exciting, invigorating and we all have the opportunity to better the world around us. But there’s nothing gained in being rude about it. Let’s all petition politely.

—Steve Yang, Features Editor

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