|Examen, Fairfield University|
While teaching in Kentucky in a school that prided itself on diversity, incidents from time to time would present the uglier side of American history: the essentialism created by pop cultural and mass media, and the unfortunate choices one or more of my students would make. At these times, I always pointed out that to be ignorant is to be human, and that ignorance must be forgivable. One doesn't always know the consequences of their choices because, well, they don't know. Sometimes we act in particular ways because we don't know better. We see our actions as innocent, fun, and meant in good spirit, but the actions are also mean, hateful, and cruel.
Such is the case, I believe, for the "party" hosted off-campus by a few Fairfield University students. Theme parties can be an absolute hoot and no one enjoys festivities of dressing in costume (on Halloween, in particular) more than I do. Yet, a party meant as 'innocent fun' is extremely offensive when more important contexts - realities beyond a good weekend party - are considered. Obviously, these young people were totally ignorant (or, as some will argue, were they?).
To repeat ignorant behavior, I liked to tell my students, is stupid. Ignorance can be tolerated, but stupidity means you are not learning. Now these young people know, or at least I hope they do. I reported to the CT Post the following,
Sadly, distasteful micro-aggressions on college campuses occur more often than they should, and they are a symptom of larger illnesses existing in American society. Such behaviors are embarrassing for a number of reasons, but mostly because such ignorance does not represent the majority of students on Fairfield’s campus. The larger percentage of Fairfield University’s campus is conscious about the world, engaged with multiple communities, and dedicated to living a good life with integrity. Faculty and administration need to be more deliberate about addressing such inappropriateness at the same time we become intentional about our celebrating of phenomenal young people who win MLK Awards, host spoken word poetry events, participate with service-learning projects, and enroll in courses in support of humanitarian efforts and student activism. Positive actions deserve to be in the news, too - not just shallow choices made by nescience.When I learned of the alleged social media that resulted from a disrespectful party, I was truly embarrassed. My first instinct was that college kids will be college kids, and being there and having done that (the partying part...not the intentional mocking of others) I understand the weekend drive to have a good time. Shoot. I can't wait for this weekend. New to this generation, however, are themed parties that aren't in bad taste, especially when the mission of a University like Fairfield is considered, the cost of tuition in higher education, the lack of diversity on college campuses, and the proximity of poverty 3 miles from the campus. Coupled with this is the history of global poverty, too, the reality of Jewish ghettos during WWII, refugee camps in many nations caused by imperialism, globalization, and civil wars, and privileges all of us are afforded with the unique opportunities existing in the United States. These opportunities, I like to imagine, are available to all. I am not naive, though. The opportunities are available to the few.
I worry that the unfortunate event will be blown to larger proportions given all the realities in the 21st century. The omnipresent reporting of the press, the commentators, and the academic fields of study will all have a say. Yes, once again we witness all that is wrong with our nation. The young people who didn't mean harm (some will argue that they did) have exposed themselves on our campus and the greater contexts influencing knowledge and social reality in the United States need to be discussed.
For me, this will remain an issue of education and one we should learn from. My office is open for dialogue, as always, and I will try to operate from discussion rather than soap-box aggrandizing. I am reflecting on this as an urban educator, a researcher, and an employee in one of the wealthiest regions in the country.
I know, myself, I must do better. I am hoping others are feeling the same way.