The tone of activism on campus has made it stop working.

The constant repetition of the same few arguments about privilege has resulted in a climate where we feel it is only acceptable to share one type of narrative about injustice. As such, I believe it is vitally important for me to question that narrative and to offer an alternative.
Consider the Meeting in the Union the Friday before last. Two-hundred students gathered to listen to speeches about inequality. One speech, billed as dealing with sexual assault, recounted a female student’s experience of trying to turn down a man at a party by dancing with her female friend, only to have him follow her and ask, “So you girls like dancing together?”

After this and a series of other stories, the assembled students marched to President Barry Mills’ office to deliver a nine-page letter of demands for institutional reform. Among other things, the letter called for harsher condemnation of students who participate in events like Cracksgiving, a public statement of solidarity with students of color, a declaration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as an official College holiday, and more conversations on race in every aspect of Bowdoin life.

Before I explicitly criticize anything about this rally, I want to make an important distinction: I am not trying to discredit the legitimacy of any of these stories or complaints. I am not suggesting that anyone shouldn’t be upset or doesn’t the have right to be angry at the man in MacMillan House who pursued her after she said no. Those feelings are real and valid.

But this story was presented at a rally for 200 people and followed by a list of institutional demands; there is more at stake than simply whether the story is legitimate.
What matters is if that story, when publicized, will effectively combat injustice, if it will motivate people of different backgrounds—students or faculty—to overcome the fear of difference and better understand one another. 

What is the purpose of writing a letter demanding a public statement on the national racial climate when Mills already sent out an email encouraging empathy with students feeling affected by the Ferguson, Mo. non-indictment?

Why demand that Martin Luther King, Jr. Day be recognized as an official College holiday when Mills already publicly announced that he is trying to achieve that very goal by 2020?
Why damn the administration for failing to show solidarity following Cracksgiving, when Tim Foster, Dean of Student Affairs sent out a page long email condemning the actions of the men who participated in that act?

What do we achieve by pointing out problems that the administration has already acknowledged exist and are already trying to solve? All it seems to prove is that inequality still exists.

But I have never heard a Bowdoin student articulate a belief that racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, or transphobia don’t exist. The only disagreement on our campus is to what extent they exist and how to best eradicate them.

It is no longer productive to simply point out that racism exists. We need to take the next step. We need to stop entrenching ourselves in our identities and start reaching out. We need to start asking how we can overcome the barriers we face and find a sense of belonging together.

That man in Mac House is not hopeless. That story didn’t end with sexual assault, just with a man needing to be told “no” a few times before it sank in. I am not excusing this, but to me he sounds more misguided than malicious. He probably didn’t realize how he made that woman feel, and she probably didn’t realize that he didn’t know. 

He could be taught to understand if we attempted to empathize with him, to patiently educate him, and—following Martin Luther King’s approach to battling injustice—to love him.
You may argue that it is not the responsibility of a marginalized group of people to teach its oppressor to be better. That is true. You, as a woman, have no responsibility to teach a man not to harass you. 

But choosing to be an activist is committing yourself to a cause that transcends just your identity. An activist must strive to take action that continually moves the community forward, even if that action involves educating those you’d rather shame. An activist has a responsibility to remove blame, recognize that we all want the same thing, and strive for understanding. 

This fall, while working on a US Senate campaign, I learned that by far the most effective way to persuade someone is to listen to them and truly try to put yourself in their shoes—to show that you understand why they view the world the way they do. 

No one will listen to you if you don’t listen to them first.

The two most important questions we as activists can ask ourselves are: “What does it feel like to be that man in Mac?” and, “How do I show him that I understand, so that he might try to understand me?”