The Collegian
Saturday, July 02, 2022

Say what you think ... then learn why you're wrong

Who else besides me reads the writing on the bathroom stalls? There are political rants, inter-fraternity quarrels and usually some reference to a person eating what the toilet leaves behind. While it's probably more often in guys bathrooms (considering most girls I talk to haven't seen any such graffiti) it is always worth taking the time to read. Graffiti in bathroom stalls is some of the most candid dialogue I have ever seen on campus. Whoever writes on the bathroom stall has no fear of punishment and only a few people ever see the message. The scribbles are not always wholesome or thoughtful, but are often indicative of what happens in reality or are at least a reflection of the way many people think about a subject.

On our pseudo-progressive college campus, we limit people to only saying what they actually believe in personal conversation or messages. Even more to this end, the atmosphere prevents students from candidly describing reality in however wholesome or gruesome a fashion. Then, every once in a while, someone makes the mistake of letting everyone know how he feels and there is a huge backlash; one person is crucified and everyone forgets about the incident a few weeks later. The Kappa Sig e-mail to the current class of rushes is not the first of its kind nor is this ridiculous type of language isolated to Kappa Sig or even fraternities in general - it's connected to more than anyone in a position of leadership is probably willing to admit.

Many younger students (who don't read The Collegian archives for a living) aren't aware of the sort of articles that have been written by legitimate (and hardly repentant) opinion editors in the past. The two editorials that are most often cited are: 1) When Jed Shireman typed offensive stereotypes of each student organization and 2) When Drew Pierson created a final four bracket of the most attractive women on campus and showed them defeating each other until the most attractive girl was decided. While often satirizing the student body and culture, those editors were vilified for being insensitive for the type of language they used to convey an otherwise legitimate thought (i.e. this student body cares too much about the superficial). These two editorials were written a few years ago and since then the campus has experienced a period of time relatively free from overt objectification of women.

Unfortunately, though they aren't made public, these offensive conversations never left our campus. But rather they went underground and persisted until that fateful day last week when the "forward" button was pushed and all hell broke loose. While I believe that the e-mail (as stated in the author's apology) is disgusting, I can't allow this most recent offense to be seen as the "next incident" that creates a fervor but ends up with everyone jaded - with girls disgusted by guy's ridiculous thoughts and comments, and with guys now labeled as even more oppressive with no hope of vindication. What I believe in regard to this e-mail is that now more than ever we can see that there are fundamental differences between men and women. However, what bothers me about all the discussions regarding this e-mail is that we currently have a coordinate college system based completely on a person's sex, but we have a public dialogue limited to the concept of gender equality. If there were no differences between guys and girls (as indeed many feminist movements have claimed) then it would only make sense that there would be similar restrictions placed on sororities and fraternities or there would be a rampant problem of girls on campus sexually objectifying men. What we have today is a completely different situation indeed.

It seems as if there is less expected of the men of Richmond College as the years progress. The college years are often just a continuation of the life we lived in high school rather than a reality check that forces us to grow up. For some reason, we are allowed to be boys when we should be learning how to be men.

At the same time, women are a significant part of this school and often willingly go to these parties referenced in offensive e-mails sent to rushes. I understand that sororities don't have the option of throwing on-campus parties and end up having fewer options other than the fraternity parties on the weekend. While this is true, make no mistake, somewhere on campus nearly every slur listed in the Kappa Sig e-mail exists in some form or another and the comments (while outrageous) are not entirely unfounded. Anyone who would argue otherwise, while ever the optimist, is unfortunately ignorant of reality. Thus, we find ourselves with the desire to silence the truth because it is offensive but we forget the college environment in which those words were written.

Now, the only logical course of action is to thank whoever brought the e-mail to light, however offensive it may be, because it is only when thoughts like this are brought to the surface that they can they be exposed for their ignorance. I saw this situation first hand at the Allies Institute last semester. Without going into detail, I will say that a group of well-respected men managed to find over a dozen ways to describe women with demeaning words but at no point did someone think to list the words beautiful, intelligent or respectable as female attributes. Fortunately, in the environment of the Allies Institute, we were given take opportunity to hear a candid response from women who were no less appalled than many Westhampton women are now. During this process, guys were able to accept the power of the words we use to describe women and realize their offensive nature. It is important to note that we were willing to learn from the situation and as a result both sides profited from the conversation that followed.

I can't stress enough that these moments of campus tension are perfect opportunities to educate willing students on the power of words and the need to explore the differences within the student body. We don't need a reactionary mentality that is just waiting for something to happen so that we can all start to feel bad about it. There is a difference between education and indoctrination and we need much more of the former. What we currently have is a system of indoctrination that would rather make blanket statements about what is or is not offensive without allowing people to arrive at this conclusion on their own. Let's talk it out and see if we can't reach an understanding within the campus community ... I promise there is a potential for reform, but it will never be realized as long as individuals are singled out and the underlying causes are ignored.

Contact Opinion Editor Michael Rogers at michael.rogers@richmond.edu

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