Letter to the Editor: A Discussion on The University of Redlands’ Political Climate

by | Nov 7, 2016 | Culture, page 2

The University of Redlands as a community has recently been extremely tense. Conversations surrounding issues of race and freedom of speech have been circulating the students, and into the faculty. Threats of protests and counter protests have been immense among clubs and organizations with differentiating views and has created a toxic environment for all. Recently, a social media post involving cultural appropriation about a party on campus has sparked controversy, as well as an event that was to be hosted by the Young Americans Foundation (YAF) about how “political correctness” murdered the fun of Halloween, and its denial by Student Activities. Currently, there is an intellectually destructive climate that denies the opportunity for productive discussion about issues facing all students.

YAF vs. The University of Redlands

Emily Jashinksy wrote an article on YAF.org, criticizing the University of Redlands Assistant Director of Student Activities, Dan Burfeind, and his denial of a proposed YAF event titled, “Funeral for Halloween.” The intent of this event was to criticize the “politically correct” foundation of campus social justice activist’s battle against culturally appropriative costumes.  Jashinsky claimed that, “it’s highly unlikely Burfiend would ever enforce these “selective and narrow restrictions on a liberal group proposing to host an event that could cause ‘frustration’ or ‘anger’ in conservative students.”

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YAF also claims that “universities restrict students from exercising their free speech…,” and in a sense, they are correct. The university’s commitment to a higher moral code does in fact block students from their right to free speech, in this situation. Under the Federal Government, it is completely legal to wear culturally appropriative costumes during Halloween. But, at the University of Redlands, it is against our campus culture to assume an identity of a marginalized group of people in society without experiencing the social consequences of having such identity every day. It is offensive to students who are a part of such minority groups that some students choose to dress up as on Halloween, because it discredits the minority’s culture into something that can be assumed one day a year without experiencing the day to day suffering of having naturally assumed that identity in a racially biased society.

The reason that the University of Redlands encourages (not prohibits) students to wear costumes that are not culturally appropriative, is because the students and faculty at the University of Redlands collectively understand that groups such as Native Americans, African or African Americans, Mexicans, and Asians (commonly appropriated cultures)  experience injustice every day because of their ethnicity. If those students affiliated with YAF want to wear offensive and/or culturally appropriative costumes, they are free to do so, but students will not hesitate from discussing with them why it is not ethical for them to do so.

In a nutshell, the “Funeral for Halloween” is a childish hissy-fit about how the students on campus telling them how they can and cannot dress on Halloween with the intention of interfering with their fundamental right to freedom of expression. When rather, these students have the intention to remove “culturally insensitive” (or, in their opinion, morally wrong) outfits that are infuriating to our diverse community. They do not have the intention to tell the intellectually combattant students what they can and cannot do, but rather educate them on why certain costumes should not be appropriated, on Halloween or otherwise.

Although, Mr. Burfiend’s decision about YAF’s event was not to silence their students’ voices about the retraction of freedom of expression on campus due to political correctness. Instead, he suggested that “…the best way for your message to be conveyed is via a protest with a clear intent.” On the obituary that the YAF students proposed is written; “out of touch liberals” and “humorless administrators” use political correctness to attack Halloween by, “seeing racism in so many innocent aspects of everyday life.” Such a statement directly attacks groups of people for their beliefs, and therefore intentionally insights anger and frustration. Perhaps if they left this statement out, or rephrased it, their flyers would have been approved.

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Freedom vs. Cultural Appropriation

        It is absurd that a dialogue about this issue was sparked by a social media post about a Halloween party, and a cancelled event. Jashinsky was totally incorrect about why the University of Redlands should “…reevaluate the maturity of the student body” because of a cancellation of a satirical event. The real reason why the University of Redlands should reevaluate the maturity of its student body is because of its emotionally charged, personally aggressive manner in which both sides participated in creating a dialogue about these issues. So far, in assessing them, there has been absolutely no inclusive literature, nor event, that has been created in which both sides can openly discuss the issue of “Freedom vs. Cultural Appropriation.” Which, is what this section will be addressing.

Any person, no matter the color of their skin or heritage can recognize that there is an inalienable right granted by the first amendment of the Constitution that everyone is entitled to Freedom of Speech. Although,  America’s minorities are still incredibly oppressed. Therefore, what needs to be discussed is what inequalities minorities are facing today and how we should address it. Leaders of all People of Color (POC) groups on campus in recent years have been demanding the removal of cultural appropriation in our community. This specific dialogue is about removing a certain act that which POC find personally offensive, and it is not anyone but the POC’s position to determine what is racist and what isn’t. The appropriation of cultures via costume and the negative rhetoric that surround it, is not about political correctness but rather understanding and ensuring social equality across races. Therefore, if we as a community want our POC to have socially equal treatment, then we must understand and change our values and actions for equality.

The entire argument of “it is my right” is incredibly egocentric. The notion that their rights are more important than equality is insulting to all who stand for it. Their argument of “political correctness” is a stomping ground for those who believe that the “radical left-wingers” are trying to limit their speech to their “agenda.” Which in some cases is completely true- academia and the media are perfect examples. Although, the current dialogue surrounding racism is not an appropriate issue to argue over political correctness. It is a simple matter of respect by the demanding and creating equality for our POC students. Which is not an agenda exclusively set to limit our conservatively-minded students’ freedom of speech/expression, and such claim is utterly absurd.

What needs to happen?

First, there should be an acknowledgement of the lack of diversity in thought on the University of Redlands campus. A professor once told me that his conservative students on campus feel as if they have to keep their heads down low during political discussions in class. Quite obviously, there is a population of conservative students who feel alienated by the professors and students on campus.  One could definitely sympathize with the anger the conservative students feel when they are completely left out of conversations because of their beliefs.

The mission statement of the University of Redlands states:

Redlands emphasizes academic rigor, curricular diversity and innovative teaching. Redlands fosters a community of scholars and encourages a pluralistic notion of values by challenging assumptions and stereotypes in both classes and activities. A Redlands education goes beyond training to embrace a reflective understanding of our world; it proceeds from information to insight, from knowledge to meaning.”

Conservative students feel that there is not a curricular diversity, nor pluralistic notions of values. It is the leaders of the university’s responsibility to incorporate the mission statement into all aspects of the community. And, it is the student’s’ right to demand an academic culture that is open to all values and opinions in order to establish an opportunity for all to ‘proceed information to insight and knowledge from meaning.’

  At the same time, all students must also follow such doctrine. Diversity in thought is important to the development of one’s education, and the incurred homogeneity by students personally attacking those with differentiating opinions than the majority- is in itself illiberal. Dialogue between student-leaders about the nature of diversity in thought, as well as issues regarding micro-aggressions, needs to be ignited. Some questions we could begin with would be: What are the core values of our student body? What kind of culture do we want to cultivate? How do we establish this without creating a toxic environment for certain groups of students?

It is the responsibility of the University and its students to declare and execute our mission statement, and/or established core values. Social media arguments, value-attacking events, and the lack of ability to have non-emotionally charged dialogues about issues facing all students, is not the way to establish an environment of enriching education for all students. I hope that in the near future of the University of Redlands, the school in all its entirety, address these issues in order to establish a community of learning that is beneficial to all students; regardless of religion, race, gender, or political alignment.

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