Obie letter provokes debate
To the Editors:
(Author’s Note: The views presented in this letter are solely those of the author’s. They do not necessarily represent the views of the College Republicans or its members.)
Regarding Christopher Boyd’s letter to the editor (April 29, 2005).
As a conservative and officer of the College Republicans, I felt compelled to write concerning the letter by Christopher Boyd in the April 29, 2005 issue of The Oberlin Review.
I must begin by thanking Mr. Boyd because he has shattered the need for debate. The once insatiable pastime of many an Obie has been rendered useless. We can now use Mr. Boyd’s bigot test to determine which issues do not merit debate. Under this test Mr. Boyd would decide which stances “smack of intense bigotry.” There would then be no reason to jockey back and forth with stimulating banter. Grades would go up, time would be saved and Stevenson would be quiet. As a humble citizen, I hope that Mr. Boyd will rule on other hot-button issues such as abortion. Certainly sucking the brains out of a fetus simply because it is unwanted speaks to the truest definition of the word bigotry.
Sarcasm aside, Mr. Boyd’s letter exemplifies why groups anathema to Oberlin are needed. Mr. Boyd’s view that perceived bigotry is grounds to cease debate because it legitimizes the position is both an unoriginal sound bite and an example of argument degradation. Argument degradation is the conversion of a well-supported argument to a senseless label that results from the homogeneity of political discourse. This affects the quality of arguments on both sides. Those in the majority must seek out resistance to maintain a good argument because arguments that are repeated and reaffirmed by sympathetic ears quickly atrophy. Opinions soon become fact. Against a measuring stick of illusory fact, dissenters become easy targets for labeling. For those in the minority, it is more difficult for their arguments to be refined because it takes courage to test your ideas against those who have already reached the end of argument degradation. Added resistance in the form of such clubs like the College Republicans will give everyone a chance to refine their arguments.
In addition, homogeneity leads to exposure to one side of an argument. Taking the example Mr. Boyd provides, I would argue that, despite his invective, there are very sound and logical secular (and religious!) reasons to be skeptical of gay marriage. For example, the predominant view on campus is to frame the issue in terms of rights, but many conservatives do not see it that way. Thomas Sowell, a conservative economist, argues that marriage is a legal contract and is a restriction of rights. Others argue that marriage cannot possibly be a right because the goal of rights is for them to apply to everyone. The nature of marriage precludes this because, by definition, it is restrictive not only to gender, but also number, relation, age, species and other characteristics. The logic continues that if it is not a right then it is something else that can reflect the sensibilities of society. In other words, it is okay for the definition of marriage to be defined by democratic processes.
Perceptions of bigotry are irrelevant in the battle of ideas. As I hope my introduction pointed out, we all have issues that spark a desire to name-call. But to label our opponents (and their positions) with terms that mollify such desires is pointless and self-serving. If anything, intense conviction should drive us away from labeling and towards the perfection of arguments. Such an endeavor is more academic, rewarding and beneficial. As Mr. Boyd subjects his political sparring partners to background checks, it is my hope that dissident groups such as the College Republicans will help magnify the flaws of such unnatural selection.
To the Editors:
I am responding to Christopher Boyd’s letter, which appeared in last week’s issue and was a response to one I wrote the week before. Mr. Boyd’s letter is a fantastic catalyst for me to expound upon gay marriage, because there are elements of his letter that would seem to take for granted an issue I have not seen reconciled in the public sector (or it’s been reconciled and I’ve been living under a rock for four years — which I grant is entirely possible). This issue is the separation of marriage into two issues: one of faith and one of law. I don’t have a problem with the Catholic Church not allowing two people of the same gender to marry. The Church is a private institution, free to set its policies as it will. I do have a problem with state and federal governments not allowing those same two people to get a marriage license. To me, it’s arbitrary discrimination. Since a marriage from a legal perspective appears to offer only a financial advantage, why should only certain sets of people be afforded this advantage, especially if those sets are determined by their sexual orientation?
In his letter, Mr. Boyd writes, “There are few logically sound secular arguments against gay marriage that don’t smack of intense bigotry.” Mr. Boyd doesn’t make the distinction between these two types of marriage, and in failing to do so runs dangerously close to calling anybody who is opposed to gay marriage a bigot. Because of the very crucial dichotomy of the issue, it is in fact possible to support one type of marriage and not the other and remain legitimately clear of the title “bigot.” For example, there are Catholics who believe gays shouldn’t marry (“marry” here refers to marriage within the Catholic Church) because God says so. The official stance of the Church is the same. A Catholic who feels this way isn’t bigoted, but she is following a tenant of her faith, as any good follower of any faith ought to. That same Catholic isn’t prevented from pressuring the government to grant marriage licenses to any couple regardless of the sexual orientations involved.
Tangentially, Mr. Boyd writes, “to engage in civil discourse with someone who espouses such bigotry [he refers to opposition of gay marriage] serves to legitimize an execrable position.” I have just shown it is possible to be against (one kind of) gay marriage and yet not be a bigot; nonetheless, does there exist a type of discourse that serves to de-legitimize opposition to gay marriage? To me, the only way to convince somebody he’s wrong is through reason, argued in such a way as to not piss him off but more importantly to help him see the holes in his reasoning. If not civil discourse, what would Mr. Boyd recommend I do instead when I discover somebody who opposes gay marriage? If civil discourse doesn’t work, what other options have I that aren’t childish, violent or petty?
To the Editors:
Concerning Yeworkwha Bela-chew’s letter in last week’s Review about a vote of no confidence on Nancy Dye constituting an unfair public humiliation, Belachew seems to understand ahead of time which way this vote would go. What she doesn’t seem to grasp is that the real source of humiliation is Nancy Dye’s performance, not the public recognition of it.
Wouldn’t we all have it so cushy as to make over $400,000 a year but not have our performance be subjected to public scrutiny? Belachew is certainly free to argue, on whatever anecdotal basis, the merits of Ms. Dye’s presidency. I’m very glad she’s been so gratified in her relationship with Ms. Dye. Might she not be a bit curious why so many others haven’t been?
The Trustees of the College take formal votes. So does the faculty. Why try to preclude the student body from exercising its right to an up or down vote? Now that I think about it, professor evaluations pose the danger of being a little too harsh as well. But perhaps Belachew can help us out there as well. As busy as the ombudsperson’s office must be, surely there’s time to generate a list of who’s up for criticism and who’s docked securely in safe harbor amidst this tempest of unfair public humiliation.
To the Editor:
We at Family Planning Services of Lorain County are thankful for all the help we have received this past school year from the following students and alumnae of Oberlin: Katie Baum, Bonnie Baird, Ilana Cohen, Katie Dover-Taylor, Miriam Drapkin, Miriam Elfstrom, Melissa Francisco, Julie Fritz, Alicia Greene, Emily Hansen, Lily Krichels, Dori Lamb, Tessa Levine-Sauerhoff, Mary Beth McCalla (OC ’43), Amie Patchen, Helen Travis, Mallory Yager and Ariela Zamcheck. We also appreciate the work of Students United for Reproductive Freedom (SURF), who donated a day of their time to our clinic, and students from Meredith Raimundo’s First-Year Seminar class.
These volunteers have donated anywhere from a day’s work to coming in weekly for the entire school year, working in the clinic and educating in the community. We appreciate all their help and will miss those of you who will be graduating.If anyone is interested in the volunteer opportunities that Family Planning has to offer you can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call the clinic at 322–7526.
A volunteer appreciation celebration will be held for these volunteers at the Edmonia Lewis Center on Wednesday, May 11 at noon. We hope to see you all there to thank you in person for all the work you have donated this past year. THANK YOU!
To the Editors:
During the past five years I have often meditated on the value of free speech in an open society, because it seems to be our nation’s best protection against tyrants who masquerade as elected champions of the common good. As in the macrocosm of the United States, so in the microcosm of Oberlin College. Having taught here since 1974, I have witnessed many occasions when the exercise of free speech has snatched the College from the brink of institutional disaster.
A fragile, transparent and highly permeable membrane, however, separates authentic freedom from egotistical license. That membrane is civility, and it is not for nothing that civility is the close verbal cousin of “civilized” and “citizen.” Good citizens, in my view, exercise their freedom of speech to strengthen the social contracts that secure an organization’s ability to enhance its richly diverse constituent communities of interest. Thus, good citizens are deliberate in debate, slow in judgment and graceful in defeat. By contrast, those who obscure facts, betray trust, prejudice opinion or leap to unfounded conclusions have at heart only their own, often malicious, agendas.
With genuine sorrow I lament that recent public discourse among the faculty and students at Oberlin College, as reported and interpreted in The Oberlin Review, seems to have ruptured the membrane of civility and flooded our common speech with poisonous half-truths, innuendoes, hearsay and just plain bitterness. In particular I point to an article reporting that a candidate in the dean search had left the campus “indignant,” and then going on to imply that some sort of shenanigans were clogging up the pipelines of due faculty process. First, there was no truth in the claim that the candidate was indignant; second, there is no possible way for anyone outside the search committee to have known the progress of the search by the time that issue of the Review went to press.
Because I do not perceive in these and related sensationalistic speech-acts a quest for the common good, I implore us all — and especially my colleagues on the faculty — to guard our tongues and to keep our hands quietly folded in our laps, particularly when they want to leap to the keyboard and hammer out yet another stream of angry or vengeful speech. In the last weeks of the semester, let’s try to behave like the civilized humanists we’d like for others to believe we are.
Open Letter to Larry Dolan:Dear Mr. Dolan,
We write to you, a member of the Oberlin Board of Trustees, to express our continued concern that the mascot of your baseball team, the Cleveland Indians, promotes a harmful image of American Indian people. The Indians baseball club has appropriated American Indian identity, molded it into a derisive caricature and used it as a large-scale marketing tool. Since you are on our Board of Trustees, we, as Oberlin College students, benefit from the profits of this marketing. We urge you to listen to the Cleveland American Indian community’s vocal and sustained disapproval of the mascot and the team name.
We greatly appreciate your having met with Oberlin students on two occasions, during the 2000-01 and 2001-02 school years, to discuss the Chief Wahoo mascot. Since those meetings, the alternate “I” logo has begun to replace the Wahoo mascot inside the stadium and on some apparel, and we find this encouraging. The Wahoo mascot, however, remains on most of the commercial products marketed by the Cleveland Indians organization. We hope to see the transition away from the mascot continue until the demeaning face is relegated to vintage clothing stores and dusty attics. As the owner of the Cleveland Indians, you have the ability to push for these changes.
On Saturday afternoon we will be screening a rough cut of the Cleveland American Indian Movement’s documentary WaWHO? Nothing is Sacred at Oberlin College. We hope that you will eventually have a chance to watch this movie.
We want to clearly express that we see you as an asset to Oberlin College. We want you to stay on our Board of Trustees. At the same time, we see it as imperative that you work towards discontinuing the marketing of a picture that demeans American Indians.
To the Editors:
I was asked to write a letter to the Review in support of My Generation, the May programming to help the increasing alcohol, drug and tobacco issues on campus. I had to think long and hard of what to write. I could have been very technical, explaining all of the health risks related to smoking, how you will die early and all of that stuff. I chose instead to tell my story about smoking.
I am from a family of smokers: Mom, Dad, several sisters and brothers all smoked. I was exposed to second hand smoke my entire childhood. I was one of the lucky ones; in high school I hung out with kids who didn’t smoke and so I never became addicted. Later in my life, I helped take care of my father as he died from emphysema. I have a younger sister who is addicted to cigarettes and looks 10 years older than I. Nothing that I do or say can convince those whom I love that their smoking of cigarettes has adverse effects on the people in their lives.
When I turned 40, for whatever reason (probably due to all of the smoke exposure), I developed asthma. Now I take many medications every day so that I can do the things that I love to do. Now, whenever I am exposed to cigarette smoke I wheeze and have problems with my breathing for several days. Sometimes I can’t ride my bike or work in my garden because of my breathing.
The point of my story is two-fold, and is directed toward smokers and to the people who love them. Smokers, you know you should quit. There are resources available to help you do so (Student Health, www.quitnet.com, Freedom from Smoking). Your secondhand smoke affects everyone: strangers, children, your friends and family. Most of us understand that you are dealing with an addiction, but please, try to keep your smoke to yourself. Don’t smoke near doorways on campus, go outside to smoke whenever possible and if someone asks you to move or put your cigarette out just do it. It’s not personal, really.
Nonsmokers, remember that smokers are coping with an addiction, one that is as powerful as any other substance. Be supportive, offer help and don’t ever give up on the ones that you love. Smokers stop when they are ready and should be treated with love and respect until they are able to do so.
If this letter inspires anyone to work on smoking issues on campus please e-mail Student.Health@oberlin.edu. We have a lot of work to do.
To the Editors:
When I first came to Oberlin two years ago, I was amazed by how many Obies smoked. This confused me for two reasons. First because we are well-educated, yet continue to smoke. In the general population there is an inverse relationship between educational attainment and tobacco consumption. Yet at Oberlin, this doesn’t seem to be the case. Second, Oberlin students have a strong and responsible environmental and socioeconomic consciousness, but smoke anyway. The tobacco industry has unethical environmental and socioeconomic practices, but we still support it.
Oberlin has demonstrated its commitment to the environment through academic studies and student activist groups. Yet we have done very little to combat the environmental side-effects of tobacco usage such as secondhand smoke, harmful agricultural practices and production and consumption waste. SHS is a class A carcinogen and kills 53,000 people annually, the third leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. (American Legacy Foundation).
Nicotiana tabacum is grown in 120 countries, making it the most widely grown non-food crop. Ninety percent of all land used for tobacco growth is located in developing countries, taking advantage of their underdevelopment and using non-sustainable practices such as deforestation that deplete soil nutrients and ruin ecosystems (Geist). Tobacco manufacturing produces liquid, solid and airborne wastes producing over 27 million kilograms of chemical waste annually, placing the tobacco industry 18th among all industries in total chemical waste production. This chemical waste translates into over $50 million in abatement costs. Tobacco consumption often results in litter of cigarette butts, packages and cartons containing cellulose acetate that remain in the environment for extended periods of time. Cigarette butts are the leading item found over years of environmental cleanups. We can see this unfortunate production of litter around our campus. Although the school provides numerous smoking outposts for butt disposal, our campus remains littered with butts. We all enjoy Wilder Bowl during a sunny TGIF but tend to leave it a lot nastier than we found it. Not only does tobacco kill people, it kills the environment.
The economic impact of the tobacco industry is profound. The average smoker spends hundreds of dollars on cigarettes per year and $150 billion on their healthcare! So while the tobacco industry gets richer, we all get poorer.
The tobacco industry in the U.S. spends over $34.2 million a day on tobacco advertising, often targeting youth, women and minorities (Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids). As recounted by Dave Goerlitz, once chief model for Winston cigarettes, when asked why none of the Winston executives smoked, one of them replied, “We don’t smoke the crap, we just market it. We reserve the right to smoke it for the young, the poor, the black and the stupid” (American Cancer Society).
Smoking is a personal choice, but it has far-reaching implications. As Obies it is our social responsibility to combat the negative socioeconomic and environmental effects of tobacco consumption. How can we do this? We can encourage our administration to meet national recommendations of socially responsible smoking policies. We can raise awareness of these detrimental effects and work to foster an environment that promotes movement away from supporting the tobacco industry.
To the Editors:
When the Pope died, I confess I wasn’t flummoxed by the news. I thought of words written by Paul Celan that reflect a socialist, and perhaps a communist, notion of community that has been intellectualized by Claudia Rankine in her book Don’t Let Me Be Lonely:
“Or Paul Celan said that the poem was no different from a handshake...[it] is our decided ritual of both asserting...and handing over...a self to another. Here. I am here. This conflation of the solidity of presence with the offering of this same presence perhaps has everything to do with being alive.”
This is the passage that echoed in my mind when I overheard two Obies chatting about the Pope’s death and what this could mean for the Catholic religion and religion in general. The question “What is faith?” popped up in my mind. Does it have to do with ritual behavior? Does it involve being a member of a congregation, a temple or a mosque? Does it mean one has to be a member of “the good and ‘civil’ society” in the sense that an individual should comply to duty as opposed to the responsibility of one’s own integrity, ethics, circumstances, choices and pleasures in life? Does it have to do with judging behaviors based on whether or not they are “good,” “normative” or “bad?”
Then, I turned my attention to their questions: who will be his successor? Who appoints the next Pope? What does the Pope do, anyway?
At first, I thought to myself, him...him...him...there seems to be so much emphasis on the question of him. Why must there always be a repetitive pattern of male institutional power — has anyone noticed that women are still banned from the priesthood in the Catholic faith?
After thinking of this question, I felt compelled to introduce myself to the students in the cafeteria and say the following: “You know, much popular and public attention has surrounded the death of the Pope, but I personally did not grieve when he died. I danced and I watched dancers from a modern dance class move to their own rhythms outside of a Protestant meeting house.”
And then I mentioned Claudia Rankine’s words: “I couldn’t help but think...was Princess Diana ever really alive?...alive to anyone outside of her friends and family, truly? The English were very disturbed after her death. On television they showed thousands of mourners leaving flowers in front of the palace...Weren’t they mourning the protection they felt she should have had? A protection they’ll never have? Weren’t they simply grieving the random inevitability of their own deaths?”
When I wear a black skirt, I’m reminded of my grandmother who lost her husband when she was 24 years old. She has lived without God, without Christ, without a husband, a brother, a man of any sort. When the Pope died, she donned black, she traveled to church, she counted the years on her rosary, she renewed her vows, she reflected on how we must “love everybody and all peoples” and she asked us to consider how we can all find love.