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The Scarlet & Black

Letter to the editor: Preserve diversity of opinion

Tolerance. At Grinnell, we like to pride ourselves on embodying this principle. What is tolerance? What is intolerance? I certainly do not live these ideas in the extreme. I am not so intolerant that I would physically attack a person who embodied an identity which I find taboo. But I also am not so tolerant that I am comfortable with every single identity that I have thus encountered so far in my life. I wade in the middle and I assume that most other Grinnellians do the same, shifting a little further left or right based upon their conversations and experiences. Most of the time, I try to shift closer to tolerance. But it does not mean that I always succeed, that there are never moments when I suddenly edge closer to intolerant and reject the ideas and/or identities around me based upon unsuccessful conversations, events or relationships that I experience here.

I think those moments happen a lot here. With a diverse meeting of minds come diverse ideas and beliefs. But even in a place full of diversity, majority still rules. By majority, I am simply referring to the power of social weight. Who is the majority at Grinnell? Queer. Democrat. White. Liberal. Definitely not Christian. Definitely not Republican. What happens if one is conservative instead of liberal? This a diverse place full of different ideas and beliefs which often clash and result in unintentional subordination and silencing based upon the cultural leanings of our majority. And how do we do it? It is in the dismissal annoyance evident in our tone, it is in the rolling of our eyes, it is in the interruption of someone talking about something that even suggests leaning towards the minority stance upon the issue, it is in our unwillingness to apologize. At Grinnell, I believe our methods for response to opposition is dangerous.

People come into the Grinnellian culture from a plethora of places and quickly learn what is valued here and what is rejected. Some of people who come here realize that what they value and believe is important to them are not very popular. These people often witness these opinions be frequently besmirched in conversations monthly, weekly or even daily. But because they love this community, they wish to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance and do not want to threaten their standing within it. So they do not express these values and beliefs that are so controversial to the popular opinion. I can only point to our habitually painful culture of silencing. Attacks upon the legitimacy of opinions are happening all around the table and some opinions have been forcefully silenced because of this, opinions that would greatly contribute to the collective think tank on this issue.

I am wary of the seemingly intentional avoidance to the changes we, as students, need to make in how we deal with unpopular ideas. The perpetrator may be faceless but we know it is a Grinnellian face. One we see every day. Are we really being socially conscious if we are not questioning the effectiveness of our responses as students to the ideas behind this face as well?

I believe that there were mechanisms inherent in our securely bubbled culture, such as our tendency to silence the unpopular opinion, that feeds the harsh and frightening divide. In order to create a united front of concerned Grinnellians, as all of us seem to desire at this moment, I believe we must acknowledge how we tend to intellectually alienate each other. I suggest that we take a look at and change the invisible structures of how intellectual discourse is conducted within our college in order to not only return but reinforce our self-notions of safety. By acknowledging how we alienate each other, perhaps we ourselves can ‘unlearn’ how stratifications of inequality has followed us from our various homes across this country and the globe. I believe this can happen through simply talking about this simple observation I have made here. Bring it up in class. Rant on Plans. Remind someone to be respectful in a conversation if you sense unfair power dynamics at play and if they don’t listen to you, point out how in the act of not listening they are only proving your point. Then apply your own criticism to yourself and listen to ideas that are deeply uncomfortable in the struggle to make the kinds of changes that our entire community desperately needs. Be the accountability that we so fiercely demand from our administration these days.

If you do these things and more (because in a diverse place, there are always endless suggestions on how to better ourselves), I think we’ll be closer the forgiving, fierce Grinnell we keep on bragging about at home and coming back to after breaks.

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  • D

    David NathanNov 14, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    Well put.

  • G

    GemNov 14, 2010 at 10:14 am

    Thank you! Thank you for acknowledging how Grinnell marginalizes those with different convictions, those who don’t fit the campus standard. It tends to be a case where “all animals are equals, but some are more equal than others.” Some time ago, in meetings with people like VPs Bernal, Dougharty, and Greene, I got the feeling there was only one acceptable answer: “Gaynell”. Some diversity…