Responding to my critics and expanding the conversation
Hey, it’s me—that “anonymous coward” who emailed Barstool last week. I want to make it clear that I do not condone the individual calling out of students on campus, and that I regret any pain that was caused by certain other online articles. However, after the Barstool article came out, I noticed various people on Yik Yak and Facebook were choosing to criticize me for my anonymity, rather than for my opinions.
No, I did not attend any of the “open” discussions on campus in the past two weeks, nor did anyone who disagrees with the administration, as far as I’m aware. There’s a reason for that, and it’s not because we don’t exist. I want you to imagine walking into a room of 100 outraged students who you’ve never spoken to before. Now, imagine standing up in front of this group and saying that you disagree with them, knowing you may well be the only person in the room who feels that way. Would you do it?
Let me tell you a little bit about myself. I grew up in a small suburb about 30 minutes outside of the great city of Boston. I attended a small, Catholic, all-boys, conservative private school from seventh grade through graduation—a school that was about 90 percent white. I am mostly of English and Irish decent and my family has lived in this country for about three centuries. I am also a registered Republican. No, I did not attend the party. No, I am not being disciplined.
When I arrived at Bowdoin last fall, one of the first things I learned about this place was that my opinion wasn’t welcome here. Even around my friends, I found myself constantly ganged up on in political arguments. My opinion was a joke to them—in fact, I considered myself the victor of any argument that ended in the opposition laughing at me, rather than continuing to argue.
It was at that point that I stopped talking about my views and beliefs, because I realized that there is no winning those arguments. People here didn’t take me seriously—they already had their thoughts and ideas, and they were not willing to change them. And that is fine. If you don’t agree with me, it isn’t my job to change your mind—I couldn’t care less about what you think.
But that is why I didn’t raise my hand in class and share my opinion, and it’s also why I didn’t go to any of these so-called “discussions.” (I say “so-called” because I don’t think you should be able to call it a “discussion” if only one side of the issue is represented.) You have to understand how numbingly intimidating it would be for someone like me to walk into a room full of people who, according to our administration, hold the majority opinion and share my thoughts.
Even when people share conservative opinions anonymously on Yik Yak, they are ridiculed and treated like their opinion is absurd. One post I saw epitomized this idea: “I wish I knew who was voting for **** at Bowdoin so that I would know who to stay away from.” The fact that students here look at dissenting opinions like this is incredibly contradictory to what Bowdoin claims to represent. You’re supposed to want to have your ideas challenged—that’s how we create our own opinions. You aren’t educated on an issue if you only know one side of it.
But the student body wanted a name attached to these viewpoints, so here I am. If people who refuse to be challenged judge me or call me a racist for thinking that there was nothing wrong with the “tequila” party, so be it. I’m going to say something that might shock you: I have never been offended in my life. In fact, I really don’t know what being offended means. (“Wow this kid really needs to check his privilege.”)
I understand I was born into privilege. However, I didn’t choose to be born into a white family or go to a white high school, that’s just how my life is. Just because I’m seemingly more fortunate than other people doesn’t mean I should be brushed aside as another kid who just doesn’t get it. I want to get it. I wish I understood—it would probably make this whole situation a lot easier. But the fact of the matter is that nothing in my life has even remotely prepared me for dealing with this kind of problem. My parents never taught me that I can’t participate in other cultures—the piñatas at every one of my birthday parties can speak to that.
My high school administration’s biggest problem was kids getting into fights at parties, not kids being hurt over their culture being used. Offensive is the last word I would have used to describe the tequila party email invitation when I received it, and that’s not because I’m racist or intolerant—it’s because I’m a product of how I grew up. And of the people who I’m close friends with who attended the party, I know this is true of them as well. How they could possibly have been expected to know that this could be construed as offensive is beyond me.
But our administration thinks that it is their fault. In fact, they think it is so much their fault that they are willing to give social probation to someone who attended the party and was seen in a picture wearing a sombrero. Punishments were given without any opportunity for students to defend themselves. The girls who threw the party are being kicked out of their room and forced to move, as well as being placed on social probation. Anyone who attended also received an official reprimand from Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster.
The way the administration handled this “investigation” is nothing short of comical. They didn’t even have a final list of students who attended the party until Monday, when my letter to Barstool surfaced. The fact that they didn’t even ask the attendees their opinion of the event is ludicrous. The administration assumes that just because someone was in a room with people wearing sombreros, it means they are actively participating in offensive “ethnic stereotyping.”
Where is the rule in the social code that says you can’t wear a sombrero? When did anyone from the school ever tell us that throwing a tequila-themed party is wrong? When did anyone from the school ever tell us that wearing a sombrero is wrong? Yet these students are expected, just because they attend this school, to know exactly where the invisible line in the sand is, and to magically understand exactly what is and isn’t offensive.
If you want to create this culture on campus, you have to do it through education of everyone, not through disciplining ignorance. In the Bias Incident Response Protocol, it clearly states that there is no “bright line,” and that any discipline will be based on the judgment of the deans. How can you possibly put someone on social probation for a judgment call? Who gave the administration the right to decide what’s wrong? Why do you think you can punish students for acting contrary to your beliefs? Why do you think it’s okay to mandate how vulnerable 18-22-year-olds should be thinking?
I think it’s important for this campus and administration to understand that there are other kinds of diversity than just racial and cultural. Intellectual diversity, differences in opinions and beliefs, is what shapes our generation, and this mixture of diversity is what will leave a lasting impression for generations to come. The reason intellectual diversity exists is because there is an infinite variety of ways to think about every issue, and people weigh specific parts of each issue differently based on their background and the information they have readily available to them. Just because you feel like you know you are right doesn’t mean that you are, or that a right answer even exists.
I think it is wrong for students to want to be protected from certain viewpoints and opinions. The First Amendment is an extremely important part of our country, and it is what has created a variety of phenomenal places for academic engagement and intellectual discourse. If you don’t want to listen to me about it, listen to this quote from President Barack Obama:
“It’s not just sometimes folks who are mad that colleges are too liberal that have a problem. Sometimes there are folks on college campuses who are liberal, and maybe even agree with me on a bunch of issues, who sometimes aren’t listening to the other side, and that’s a problem too. I’ve heard some college campuses where they don’t want to have a guest speaker who is too conservative or they don’t want to read a book if it has language that is offensive to African-Americans or somehow sends a demeaning signal towards women. I gotta tell you, I don’t agree with that either. I don’t agree that you, when you become students at colleges, have to be coddled and protected from different points of view. I think you should be able to — anybody who comes to speak to you and you disagree with, you should have an argument with ‘em. But you shouldn’t silence them by saying, ‘You can’t come because I’m too sensitive to hear what you have to say.’ That’s not the way we learn either.”
I hope this article does its job in giving a voice to many students here who feel like they aren’t allowed to have an opinion, educate people about the other side of the issue and maybe create a less hostile environment for minority opinions on campus.
Richard Arms is a member of the class of 2018.