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Op-ed | Realigning the bias discussion

Published: Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, January 16, 2013 02:01


I’m confused, Tufts. In one ear, I hear that our university is home to a community that promotes institutionalized prejudices, casual racism, and a dangerous culture of sexual aggression and violence. “That’s terrible!”  I think. “Shouldn’t we, our generation’s best and brightest, be above all that?”  

But then another voice catches my attention from the other side. Now I hear that our campus is a zone of stifling political correctness, where better judgment is lost amidst a sea of tattletales and bias incidents. Personal offense, it tells me, is given so much consideration that we’ve insulated ourselves from the realities of a world that necessitates the thickening of skin and the turning of blind eyes. 

Again, I’m confused, and more than a little disheartened. What are we? What am I? Do I have to choose between the socially just and the comfortably biased? Or is it between the chronically out-of-touch whiner and the realist with a sense of humor? Are these my only options?

This duel-leveled polarization is detrimental to the community as a whole. More importantly, the spectrums themselves are irrelevant and unproductive. Now, and this is important, the debate between the need to provide a safe, healthy environment for all students and the need to protect our avenues of free speech is one that we absolutely should be having here at Tufts. This very discussion has occurred time and time again, from local schools to the Supreme Court.  Tufts should not be an exception. 

The issue is, I rarely see the debate over bias and social justice waged on that spectrum. Instead, I see my community and my friends starkly divided over matters of personal taste. I see my Facebook news feed flooded with ad hominem attacks based on a few hundred words in a newspaper, or an apparently egregious status update. It comes from both sides, and the antagonism only serves to further divide a campus that should be coming together over these issues, not drifting even further apart.  

I understand that the stakes are high, and very often, personal. Topics like racism, sexism, and homophobia are hard for many not to identify with. Yet if we are to find a balance between protecting the persecuted and protecting free speech, individual responses and emotions need to be separated from a discussion of what are essentially our rights as Tufts students. If someone does not see whatever insults or threatens us as indicative of the community at large or requiring administrative action, that does not mean that they in turn back our perceived oppressor. Likewise, if we find a particular piece of speech to be inconsequential or even comical, it does not mean that those who are troubled by it do not deserve consideration.

Yet time and time again I see the conversation devolve into an argument over whether or not something is “actually” offensive. These arguments are rarely civil and never productive, as they are almost always simplified into an emotional “us versus them” in which the Tufts student body as a whole becomes the enemy on both sides. There are no winners in this argument, and when everyone views the community at large as the problem, we all end up losing.  

That is not to say that the personal needs to be permanently suppressed. If we are offended, be it on issues of prejudice, politics or matters more trivial, we should have every right to say so, and to try and convince others that our convictions are valid and worthwhile. We can even use public forums like this one right here to do so. I would suggest, however, that our goal be to hold ourselves and those around us to a higher standard, not merely to shame those whom we find disagreeable.  

Yet individual beliefs are not grounds for community action or inaction.  If we do believe that community or administrative change is desired, then it should be on the basis of protecting our educational environment as a whole. If we are opposed in that endeavor, it should be on the basis of free speech, not personal taste. Most importantly, we should remember that the best way to create an ideal environment for learning and expression here at Tufts is through rational discussion and empathy, not through antagonism and division. The best way to overcome the barriers between us is to reach across them, not to silence or ignore those on the other side.

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