SPEAKING FREELY


Posted by Morgan Harris ('09)


 

Professor Wheeler mentioned: " I realize that this one noxious article is only one manifestation of this climate and by no means the main cause."

She hit the nail on the head. Below is my Letter to the Editor of the Ring-Tum Phi:

After reading the Phi’s coverage of all these campus issues over the past two months, I have felt compelled to share my disappointment in the way we have been trying to solve them. Rather than looking at why our problems exist and creating an environment to facilitate healthier behavior, we say “Hey, that’s bad. Don’t do that… or else!” But this is approach is always bound to fail. As the editorial piece said last week, “you can’t teach college students morality.” We seem to be caught in a never-ending game of “Whack-a-Mole,” but we need to think about how to inhibit the moles from surfacing in the first place.

The recently proposed hate speech policy sent a shiver down my spine. The main reason I came to Washington and Lee is precisely because we are one of the few colleges left that does not have any unconstitutional speech codes limiting what a student can and cannot say. I loathe political correctness and firmly believe it prohibits intellectual development. How can we learn about each other and the world if we are afraid to say what is on our minds because of fear it will offend someone? When something offends us, it is because it challenges our beliefs—that, to me, is the essence of learning.

While I do laud the limiting of the proposed policy to narrowly defined “hate speech,” and not “anything found offensive to other students” as is common in other schools, it is still impractical. Applying speech codes without actually letting students learn about others for themselves doesn’t accomplish anything. It’s only a band-aid, not a solution. We need to have an environment that naturally fosters contact between people of different sex, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. Any claims of diversity will be confined only to numbers seen on paper until such an environment is created, and it is simply irresponsible for the university to advertise and promote “diversity” without providing the appropriate forum for its realization.

If we are truly an institution that “produces leaders” through a “liberal arts education for the 21st century,” then we need to get into the 21st century. The fact that the hate speech policy even had to be brought up is a clear indication that our students are graduating devoid of the intercultural exchange essential to success in today’s globalized business world.

What better way to understand different types of people than by living with them? Unfortunately, our Greek system is a natural dividing factor. The astronomically high cost of fraternity membership is an immediate barrier to many international students here on full scholarship.  With notable exceptions, the international students are segregated from day one, and it only gets worse from year to year as they are lumped all together in university housing, while the wealthy white American population lives amongst themselves in the fraternity scene, deprived of the potentially wonderful benefits of intercultural exchange.

But it’s not just a “Greek vs. non-Greek” barrier. Integration between fraternities is even a huge problem. The sororities, however, are a good example of how we can have a Greek system with fewer of the problems inherent amongst fraternities in their current incarnation. The close physical proximity is a factor, but what’s more important is that there are few enough of them that they are not in cutthroat competition all fall term. We have nearly the same amount of fraternities as we did when we were all male, but we have only half of the number of males to draw from! As such, there is an incredibly unhealthy divisiveness between houses of males who would in normal circumstances be friendly with each other.  If we were somehow able to have around seven fraternities, this unnecessary hostility would be lessened and would encourage more inter-fraternal interaction, helping to build a stronger overall community.

Unfortunately I see no feasible way of going about that change, but even if it were to somehow happen, gender relations would remain an issue. Let’s face it—this environment is not at all conducive to the formation of co-ed groups of friends. If recent Phi articles on this topic are any indication, students overwhelmingly want more everyday gender interaction. Well here’s a solution that would substantially improve the predicament: build more dorms, and have students live on campus for two years before moving into their Greek houses. It’s simply unfair to have one semester to make your static friendships for all four years of college. I for one wish I had a lot more time to interact and discover before having everything set in stone by the time pledgeship season rolled around. Having that one extra year of living with people not in the same Greek organization will provide a necessary period of interaction that can only serve to bring the community closer together and contribute to the true intellectual development of all students.

Living together forces people to gain a deeper understanding of each others’ backgrounds. If we are exposed every day to different genders, races, religions, sexual orientations, etc. then it will severely hamper our tendency to engage in hate speech, rendering the ratification of any official policy a moot point.


I’ve spoken to a lot of people who agree with what I’ve said, and I’m curious to see if more people feel the same way. Whether you share these sentiments not, I’d like to see what you think. 


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