Opinion

Practicing what we preach: A call for open dialogue

I would like to begin by acknowledging that ResLife’s decision to ban student use of 10K for non-residential programming was not an easy one. There are many moving parts here, and I trust that ResLife made this decision to protect the Macalester community.

On one hand, non-residential programming in 10K poses security threats to students and their property, because it is directly connected to five floors of residential space where mostly first-years and sophomores live. There’s no real way to monitor traffic in and out of Dupre, and the last thing we want is someone getting hurt or getting their stuff stolen. There is also the added issue of noise made by attendees and tobacco being smoked on our tobacco-free campus. All of these issues are valid concerns that merit discussion and action.

On the other hand, there is something deeply unsettling about basing the 10K ban on the fact that many events held there attract “non-residential” and “non-Macalester students.” This exposes the contradiction between Macalester’s constant preaching about community outreach and its insistence on gating itself and its students off to protect them from “outsiders.”

I came to Macalester because in 2013 it still had a reputation as a progressive school in which students spoke out against injustice and stood up for what’s right. Macalester sold and continues to sell itself as an exemplar of diversity, multiculturalism and internationalism that is open to people of different backgrounds and perspectives. However, starting with KWOC and continuing into the present day, I’ve noticed heavier-handed responses from the administration that seek to silence or put a muzzle on movements and dissidence that are deemed too threatening to the status quo. We intellectualize about race and racism but neglect to reinsert ourselves into those narratives. We police other people’s language, yet complain when they fight back. We talk about the importance of service to the Twin Cities communities, but those same community members aren’t welcome on our campus without an explicit invitation.

Banning student usage of 10K for non-residential programming is a severely inadequate fix. It treats the problem of safety and security on the surface but fails to address it at the root.

Who is considered part of the Macalester community? Students, faculty and staff? Do my cousins in the Dominican Republic count as part of the Macalester community because they are related to me? What about my friends and partners? What happens if a student’s family member or friend assaults or steals from a Macalester student? Does that mean we have to put a ban on visitors, or register every single person who walks through our gates?

Who are we defining as an “outsider?” Why are they a bigger threat to us than Macalester students? Does the administration really think that Macalester students aren’t actively assaulting, raping, stealing from, vandalizing and disrespecting people? Do students? Because the reality is that Macalester students frequently endanger one another. Furthermore, Macalester students endanger non-Macalester students and individuals. Macalester is not a safe space, and despite our efforts at making it a safer space, we as a community are not talking enough about the unsafe environments that our community members create for one another on an everyday basis. If the 10K ban is based on the assumption that non-residential and non-Macalester-students pose an inherent security threat – or that being a Macalester community member automatically deems you a safe person – then both students and administrators at Macalester are painfully out of touch with reality.

Let me share a personal anecdote with you: I had an incident in fall 2014 where an ex-Macalester student who was harassing me was able to get into Wallace (which also means gaining access to Turck, Bigelow, Doty and 30 Mac) at four in the morning. This person was prohibited from entering the dorms and wasn’t even carrying a Macalester ID, but someone let them in under the assumption that their blond-haired, blue-eyed, white-skinned self was a Macalester student. Although the student who let this individual into Wallace was likely intoxicated or just trying to be nice, that student’s assumption that this individual was a Macalester student put my life in danger, because this individual came to my dorm with the intention of hurting me for rejecting their romantic advances. Thankfully I locked my door, and they were unable to get into my room, but it was a traumatizing experience for me and everyone else involved.

I share this story because I think it speaks to how many of us at Macalester assume that there are people who “look” like Macalester students and people who “look” like they aren’t. We pride ourselves on being “liberal” and “progressive,” yet we reinforce harmful and often-racialized stereotypes about who is “dangerous” and who is “safe”. I don’t want to suggest that trusting and feeling safe in our community is wrong; I instead want to question a seemingly pervasive narrative that portrays Macalester as an incorruptible safe haven. This bubble is not impermeable, nor should we strive for it to be. I know my examples may seem excessive or melodramatic, but so is banning a community space without community input and assuming that danger has a look and that it comes from outside of Macalester’s gates. For me, the 10K ban sets an uncomfortable precedent that I think will produce more harm than good for the Macalester community in the long run. This is because the 10K ban isn’t just about student safety; it is also about preserving the integrity of an increasingly insular Macalester bubble and gating ourselves off from a presumably threatening and dangerous “outside.” Moreover, I worry the impact of the 10K ban will have the opposite effect of what ResLife wants—instead of inspiring students to host events elsewhere on campus, it may compel students and orgs to host events off campus in the supposedly unsafe “outside” realm that Mac is trying to protect us from. I believe that it is in our best interest to be more receiving of non-Macalester people and make them feel more welcome in our community spaces if we are truly committed to having a symbiotic relationship with the Twin Cities communities. In order for us to truly grow as a community and live up to Macalester’s values of internationalism, multiculturalism and service to society, we need to practice what we preach and be real about the fact that the gates surrounding our ivory tower are growing higher every day.

On the basis of the 10K decision being made with little to no dialogue between administration and all students about a community space, I disagree with the decision to ban student usage of 10K for non-residential programming. I think that we should reopen the floor to more participatory models of discussion. ResLife should start the process from scratch, thus basing its decision on a community-wide discussion about the space rather than deciding for us what constitutes safety and, by extension, who is considered “dangerous” or “threatening.” Community dialogue about community spaces will not only help bridge the growing gap between administration and the student body, but also help collectively build a more inclusive Macalester College that truly lives up to its values.

September 16, 2016

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