'Liberty University of the Left?' Hardly

By David Seitz

News flash: There is no far left, multicultural, queer intelligentsia conspiring to capture, brainwash and convert you to its agenda. The fact that you find their ideas challenging, provocative or threatening says something about you, not about “them.”In last week’s issue of The Mac Weekly, my friend and colleague Amy Ledig ’10 contends that “dissent from the acceptable Macalester-liberal line is suppressed” (“How tolerant are we, really?” 11/2/2007). I couldn’t disagree more. And I say that with no intention of converting (or killing) her.

Ledig insists that divergent (i.e. “mainstream,” traditional liberal or conservative) voices have been silenced in the recent campus controversy over gendered accommodation. She supports this claim, not by surveying the spectrum public conversation, but by citing strawman examples that make unsophisticated invocation of far left critiques on gender.

Don’t get me wrong. I know full well that people deploy the important ideas about race, gender, oppression, power and injustice that guide critical inquiry for so many of us at Macalester in ways that are reductionist, or more plainly, immature. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of it (and a victim of it) myself. It happens every day, and it’s unfortunate.

But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. At the end of the day, important ideas coming from American, queer and critical studies are, well, important ideas, whether some people understand or deploy them in a way that reflects their complexity or not. The ideas ought to be considered on their own terms.

Yet Ledig writes that she felt uncomfortable voicing her support for gender-specific bathrooms in Kirk hall, because she could “foresee the deluge of criticism that would come.”

From one angle, we all understand what she’s talking about: fear of getting shut down by folks who, for various reasons, aren’t really interested in dialogue. She’s absolutely right.

But “criticism” in itself is not an attack, nor is the invitation to self-criticism that (at least in my experience) often arises from considering critical theories and concepts on their own terms. I don’t pretend to understand Ledig’s or anyone’s thought process, but I know that in my experience as a middle class gay white North American man, self-criticism resulting from what I’m learning at Mac, can be a painful and challenging undertaking. And while I wouldn’t say I’m being “converted,” I am, both willingly and uncomfortably, engaged in a process of being intellectually transformed. I’d like to think that in some respect, that’s why most of us came to college.

What Ledig is really decrying-or ought to be-isn’t some far left orthodoxy. It’s non-scholarly invocation of critical scholarship, something that is frustrating, but also something that happens everywhere. What makes places like Macalester special-and what bucks Ledig’s characterization of Mac as the Liberty University of the left-is that we get to struggle with and be transformed by these ideas, and to defend our agreements and differences, as scholars. And call me a socialist Pollyanna, or something, but that’s sort of why we came to college. If you can’t take the heat, try to remember why you rolled up your sleeves and came to the kitchen in the first place.

Opinion Editor David Seitz ’10 is a Political Science major and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies minor from Wauwatosa, Wis. Contact him at [email protected]