First years! What’s up?
I hope your first two weeks have been going well. Seeing the campus brimming with new faces and fresh optimism refills mine and many others’ hearts with the kind of hope and vigor that many of us can’t remember feeling, if at least only for a little while.
Many of you, either through your orientation leaders, RAs, or older students in your various classes, have begun to pick up on the little quirks and traditions that make up Macalester— the significance of the bell, how to pronounce The Loach, the usual. These lessons are important, and they serve to solidify our precious little Macalester community.
There is, however, a difference between training and indoctrination, and I implore you first years to learn the difference between the two.
I am a firm believer that, while many aspects of Macalester may have a long and storied history, it is the right and responsibility of each incoming class to negotiate the legacy they are inheriting, to choose to preserve what is still sacred and discard anything outdated. Just because something has always meant only one thing to your predecessors does not mean you are bound to continue to cast it in that shadow.
As an RA in Dupre last year, I grappled with the weight a legacy can convey. “Dupre 5, man?” friends would say with a wince, “Damn, dude. Got that party floor! Might be an issue!”
Uh, no it won’t— why does the fact that people once partied in a certain space, identical to other “non-party” spaces, mean that that space is forever condemned to stay the way it had the past three years? So, during my first community meeting, I acknowledged even the most unsavory aspects of Dupre’s past, knowing that they were going to hear it anyway eventually (even the story of someone taking a dump)— but I stressed that this community would become what my residents made of it. If fools really needed to party somewhere, they could do it far from home at any other place: Turck, for example.
Confession of my past sins aside, the real reason I was motivated to write this piece is a bit more serious and polarizing. First years, I’m sure by now that most of you have heard about KWOC. For those of you who haven’t yet, check The Mac Weekly archives for more info— KWOC stands for Kick Wells Fargo Off Campus, a group that takes issue with Macalester’s relationship with Wells Fargo due to its foreclosure and lending practices and seeks to establish more ethical banking by Macalester.
My personal feelings on KWOC aside, I take issue with how I perceive us older students explaining and portraying KWOC to the next generation of Macalester students. From what I have heard, personally or secondhand, KWOC is painted as a joke, an irksome group of yesteryear that has since crumbled and been put in its place.
First years, understand this—I, as an idealistic, geeky little guy straight out of Berkeley, applied to, selected, and attended Macalester having built it up as a veritable Mecca for activism and discourse. I believe many of you selected this school out of a similar hope. To come from that dream and see KWOC, after working hard for a cause they believed in dismissed as “loud,” “bothersome,” and “in the way when I’m tryna SPO,” is disillusioning and heartbreaking. To see a cynical culture that values complacency over confrontation passed on to first year students is infuriating. True, a part of growing up is realizing that no place is ever as perfect as we’d like to pretend it would be, but that does not mean that Macalester has to fall as short as every other place does when it comes to protecting and furthering an ideal.
I know that KWOC engaged in overreaching rhetoric, claiming that they “ran Rosenberg out of town” when he was planning on leaving anyway. And in terms of tactics and methods, their supporters have as much to disagree with as their detractors. But that does not mean that the students who devoted so much of their life and time to their cause, and received punishment at the hands of the administration, are unintelligent, unreflective, or not dedicated. The members of KWOC have shown a resolve that many of us, certainly myself, may never have the courage and strength to show.
For students who love touting their identity as members of a community that claims to pursue noble ideals like thoughtfulness and action, complaints and attempts to silence a group of student activists because “they’re annoying” (which is the complaint of many, but not all, KWOC detractors) come across as indicative of the worst kind of lip-service, commodification and baseless self-satisfaction. On top of that, KWOC’s methods are relatively tame in contrast to social movements that the majority of Macalester students support, at least in theory; further, I recognize that many people in our country come from communities who have only been granted legitimacy and citizenship through long, arduous histories that consisted of tactics that, yes, might have come across as “annoying.”
Fellow non-first years, we can disagree with, resent, and even hate KWOC, but to thoughtlessly make off-the-cuff remarks that delegitimize their efforts is a default on the responsibility we have to our successors. KWOC, for all of its flaws, symbolizes an aspect of our school and student spirit that is sacred, special and necessary to preserve.
First years, your only source of knowledge is not the jaded and recycled catch phrases of those that came before you— you are critical, intelligent and optimistic. You have come to this school to make this place yours and I sincerely hope that, even if KWOC turns into a cautionary tale, you don’t mindlessly adopt past years’ weariness toward in-your-face activism, that you don’t accept the legacy of years past that is foisted upon you, that you don’t give up on your dreams, ideals, on that glorious what-if, on the wonderful way that things can one day be.