Advocating change in dorms

By Zane Smith

We are living an elaborate and convoluted lie. We have ascribed ourselves to a hypocrisy that extends to our education, our social interactions and the culture we have created at Macalester.We have each learned the need for social justice, advocated for international reciprocity, defended individual human rights and been proponents of equity and accountability. We condemn egregious and self-interested acts and we collectively seek to render the world a proverbial “better place.” We are well versed in the problems and injustices afflicting our society.

Yet, we are failing miserably at addressing them. We speak glowingly of social change but our actions suggest otherwise. We attend rallies and protests, and we write insightful propositions to solve transnational conflicts. But when the problem manifests itself in a localized context, we falter and emulate the very practices we dismiss as wrong. We succumb to the very worst incarnation of the culture we are aiming to improve; a culture of disrespect, injustice and a flagrant disregard for the needs of others and of our community.

I have observed our disheartening deficiencies present themselves throughout this past year in college dorms. Our residence halls are our communities. They are our opportunity to foster the climate of mutual respect and understanding we strive to engender in our government, society and in the world. Our hypocrisy is that we endorse effective reform on a societal level but fail to create communities that are reflective of the value system for which we stand.

We speak of the paramount role of the individual in addressing issues but when a washing machine or laser printer breaks, we are content to complain about the problem and never attempt to have it resolved. We stipulate the need for a system of accountability but will nonetheless deny our individual agency and vandalize our very own living spaces without question. We lament the lack of discretionary authority in government’s choices but are happy to loiter the halls and talk loudly on our mobile phones during the late hours of the night, to the demise of other residents.

We firmly believe that each person has certain universal human rights but we regularly infringe said rights by clogging a bathroom sink with our vomit after drinking too much and making a custodian clean it up. We even talk of the need to conserve and protect our environment but we fail to pick up the trash that litters our stairwells and hallways. We emphasize the importance of communication but our interaction with our neighbors is limited to pounding on the wall between us when we perceive them to be too loud.

Finally, we talk about equal rights for all but smoke marijuana and drink alcohol under-age and complain about subsequent conduct hearings. We do this, knowing that the privileges afforded to us – as students at an expensive, private education institution – ensure that we are never appropriated the same repercussions as less-privileged adults who are arrested and imprisoned for drug use or under-age drinking. We criticize society’s partiality towards the socio-economic upper tiers but are reluctant to acknowledge that our actions are only reinforcing this system.

I love the community in which I reside. I believe Macalester is comprised of interesting, unique and resourceful individuals who intend to do the very best they can. But there are just times when our actions are disconcerting because they are in direct contradiction to the words we have been consistently reiterating. In order to avoid paying lip service to the obstacles our society faces, we must recognize that our actions have direct ramifications on the lives of others. It is the fractionalized nature of our residential experience that is hindering us from realizing our aspirations. We must understand that social change is much more than a component of pedagogy and that in order to effect positive change, we must engage ourselves at a higher cognitive order in our daily lives.

Thank you for listening to my thoughts. I respect if you disagree and encourage you to share your perspective: with me, with your peers, with your RA, or with anybody. Let’s have that conversation.

Zane Smith ’10 can be reached at [email protected]