The Scarlet & Black

The Independent Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Letter to the Editor

My name is Stephen Walkiewicz and I am smoker (of cigarettes you dirty flower flingers). Now as you know, Grinnell, this otherwise incidental fact of my personal life would generally hold little or no significance as a measure of who I am or how I and others identify myself. However, a recent law, specifically the Iowa Smoke-Free Air act, has radically changed the effects of this fact upon my life. But before I go any further I would like to point out that I would never presume to challenge the idealistic logic of the law: that smoking is detrimental not only to smokers but to those around them, and that non-smokers shouldn’t have to suffer other people’s willing choice to expose themselves to dangerous substances. That I believe is a viable case to be made. However, I can say that for myself the way in which this law has come to be enacted has had troubling effects upon the place of a smoker in their own home (here at Grinnell) and personal space. Although I don’t necessarily disagree with the intended ends of the law (to discourage smoking), I do find the way in which it is managed to be extraordinarily problematic, and quite honestly, mildly oppressive in its subtle violation of personal space, categorization of individual identity, and marginalization of smokers.

Have I gone too far? Am I wrongly conflating myself with marginalized others so that I may indulge my selfish desire to be one of the “glorious oppressed?” I don’t believe so, Grinnell. My training here in the humanities never ceases to remind me of my privileged status which so often demands rigorous attention to its dangerous historic and symbolic value. Yet my training is still telling me that something is wrong with this law and the way in which it makes its presence known, not only on this campus, but also in my mind. Its mandates have caught my conscience, effectively subjecting me to constant paranoia as an Other. It has effectively infiltrated a part of my life and categorized me as a smoker in order to name and regulate me as a problem that is an abnormality which should be considered a threat to the integrity of the system. I’ve been branded, shunned and exiled.

“Oh, get over yourself,” you might say. But look at the logic and look at the procedure. We’ve been told that security has its ever watchful eye out for smokers and will quickly bring us to the authority of a judicial committee should we violate the law by smoking on campus. Now, when lighting up, that ever present judicial eye gazes through at us from the very confines of our now paranoid minds. That gaze differentiates us from others, making us aberrations of the law who have no space as an identified smoker on campus. A smoker is now a smoker by the authoritative naughty no-no finger of lawful classification. We are therefore literally pushed to the periphery of our own domain, forced to smoke far from the center of campus to the edge of an arbitrarily delineated space. The effect of this arbitrary delineation only serves to supplement our confusion, never really leaving us at peace of mind as to whether or not we are in accordance with the law. The ill-defined center of the acceptable Grinnell student is now denied to us in a subtle way. I had to chuckle at those innocent smoker’s outpost when I realized that the barbarian the outpost was installed to prevent from entering the state was none other than myself. Where once I thought nothing of identifying myself as a smoker, I am now made constantly aware of the “erroneous” behavior I’ve adopted and the necessity to hide my abjection from the public eye in the dangerous no man’s land between speeding car and glass riddled curb.

Listen Grinnell, I’m not trying to blow smoke up your ass or in your face. I understand that it is a filthy habit that may have the potential to harm others (thanks for reminding me The State of Iowa, I forgot to lead a citizen’s dutiful life) and by no means do I wish to have the right to smoke around those who would prefer I not do so. All I’m saying is that I feel the way in which the law is enforced has made me feel violated and marginalized, and that perhaps there are better ways to arbitrate the law so that all parties have a free voice in the affair, and furthermore, so that smokers and non-smokers can live together in communicative and empathetic ways. Can’t I just sit in my favorite spot in the middle of a field when no one’s around and indulge myself in my own foolish vice? A vice that is my LEGAL right to choose. Dearest Grinnell, don’t teach me to think outside of the lines of what’s proper and then expect me to be dumb and silent as I am condemned to be defined there.

—Stephen Walkiewicz ’10

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