Opinion

Two Macalesters: why Mac needs more shared experiences

If you picked a random name of a Macalester student out of a hat, do you think you could have a conversation with them? What would you talk about?

Macalester College is an institution that promotes diversity, a goal most — if not all — of us can get behind. Demographic diversity within the student body is unmistakably a positive aspect of the college. Certainly, Macalester ought to strive to pursue diversity in the makeup of its student body, faculty, course offerings and experiences to the greatest extent possible.

For reasons that are not racial, gendered or anything in the same vein, the Macalester student body experiences a different kind of diversity. There are deep-seated, possibly inextricable factions within the Mac student body. While tempting, we ought not to think of these in the rigid and tired sense that we often do; the athlete/non-athlete divide has been discussed thoroughly, and the conservative/liberal divide — while salient — does not adequately cut to the core of what I believe is a major issue at Macalester that must be resolved.

Shared experiences at Macalester are scarce. Very scarce. While there are certain aspects of Macalester life that we feel we all experience — think Minnesota Winters™, Winter Ball and Springfest — these hardly bring us closer as a community (not to mention that half the student body does not attend the latter two events). Moreover, the fact that the only interaction between students en masse occurs in a dimly lit room, music blaring, in the midst of a drunken haze, is a clear sign that these events do not do much to foster unity. As a school, we will only continue to suffer through the persistent discord if we cannot draw upon community-wide moments and events that make us feel closer to everyone at the school, and not just our regular group of friends.

If there is anything I have learned from the godforsaken Mac Confessions Facebook page — which has degenerated into a ceaseless cycle of trolling, preaching, ranting and whining — it is that Mac students are bitterly divided. Although we generally feel as if we are all unified behind the same progressive political project, there are certainly people at Macalester who know themselves to not be as tolerant of LGBT and racial issues as they feign in order to get through the day without being crucified. This is not a defense of those individuals, nor is it even really a conversation about them. Rather, this is a larger diagnosis of what I believe is a discord between the image of Macalester as the tightly knit community it purports to be, and the reality of the Macalester experience.

Large factions of Macalester students hold other factions in complete disdain. This schism is only going to get worse without an experience at Macalester that can unite us all in an impactful way. It behooves us all to think during our time away from Mac this summer about what this experience ought to be.

People undeniably experience disparate versions of Macalester. More so than the average college, Macalester carries a wide variety of connotations for its 2,000-odd students. Although the opportunity to forge your own path at a school is not bad in and of itself, it is detrimental to the student body as a whole if there is no confluence between those independent journeys. Without a common ground on which we can all operate, it will be impossible to reconcile the differences between us.

Solving the campus-wide fissure is urgent, lest we come to embrace the new normal—a community demonstrably split in two over every somewhat controversial event or proposal. To be clear, it should be obvious to everyone at this school that there are essentially two Macalesters, with very little overlap between them.

The two Macalesters, however, are not as diametrically opposed as it may seem. Sure, we may not all espouse the same vision of the direction of the school or country, nor should we; civil disagreement is a cornerstone of higher education. And it is preposterous to suggest that because we all came to Macalester, we all tacitly agreed to adopt any one individual’s definition of Macalester’s core values.

That said, we did all come to Macalester at least generally aware of its values: multiculturalism, internationalism and service to society. These values, in large part, I think we can all get behind. But in order to do so, we need to learn how to interact with our peers. Continuing to yell at each other over anonymous internet message boards is petulant, ineffective and won’t address any of the issues about which we care deeply.

For the two Macalesters to productively address their disconnect, we cannot keep living as if there are two Macalesters. The bulk of the resolution of this divide falls on the administration, which to this point, has allowed the discontent to fester. As frustration comes dangerously close to its breaking point (a perusal of Mac Confessions may suggest that this breaking point has already been reached), everyone with the power to shape our collective Macalester experience has the responsibility to do so.

Invite speakers to campus who will excite and attract a diverse crowd of students. Marlon James’ convocation speech was a highlight of the year. But such instances cannot be anomalies and must be followed up with similar events to build upon the communal growth that was fostered on that September afternoon.

Promote school events that both Sober @ Mac and frat star types can enjoy. Create situations in which Macalester students can come together to support something larger than any one individual, separate from anything inherently divisive.

Refine what Macalester means so that it embodies something apolitical on top of what it already stands for. Many would assert that Macalester’s strength lies in its commitment to the pursuit of justice. While it would be unwise to get rid of that aspect of the school, build on the image of Macalester to stand for something we can all be proud of—because we are not of one mind ideologically to the degree we may like to think we are.

Do all you can to prevent four-year-long self-selection of your Macalester experience. Although you will not like everyone you meet, it is a rarity to be around this many people who are this smart in such a concentrated space. It would be foolish to spend your time here dismissing your peers out of hand at every opportunity because of some conception you have of them based on sparse information.

Macalester has immense potential to actually resemble the tightly knit community that it so gleefully extols to touring families and prospective students. Beyond whatever the administration can do to provide the framework for a more unified student body, the burden of this reconciliation falls on all of us. Whether this means not making that Mac Confessions submission you know deep down will only serve to throw gas on the fire, or whether this means making the extra effort to appreciate the validity of another person’s lived experiences, we can each be better.

We cannot return to a school that is persistently toxic. We cannot return to a school that makes students ashamed to attend it every time they open Facebook. We cannot return to a school which has insurmountable barriers to school spirit because of the contempt in which sizeable portions of its students are held.

I do not have all the answers to this problem, but the problem cannot be ignored any longer. We will all benefit from some personal reflection and a legitimate examination of Macalester’s faults and shortcomings in this particular theater during our time away from Mac. I sincerely hope we can all return to a school as a student body that has given up the rancor of the past few months and is working towards becoming a community that we feel represents and inspires all of us.

April 28, 2017

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