Violating community boundaries

Here at Williams, we have a community. Unfortunately, nobody seems to understand what that means anymore. A clear illustration of this can be found in the reaction to the recent chalkings by the Bisexual Gay Lesbian Transgender Union (BGLTU).

To several members of the faculty, the erasure of some of the chalkings has illustrated one of the central problems facing Williams today. Professor Gail Newman, director of the Multicultural Center, warns in a letter to the Record that “there is too large of a gap between our public discourse – the way we talk to each other in class, or the way we present ourselves to the larger world – and our private fears and longings.” This is a situation that is “dangerous to the individuals involved and the community as a whole.” Members of the Advisory Group on Queer Issues echoed these thoughts in their own letter. Decrying the “culture of politeness” at Williams, these faculty members supported the fact that the chalkings were offensive to community standards. To them, “‘community standards’ are often just majority standards and work to exclude minority voices and experiences.”

These two arguments essentially represent a complete misinterpretation of the concept of community. Communities, by their very nature, are set up by majorities for majorities. A group of people with some sort of similar circumstance – be it ideology, ethnicity, religion or even mere geographic proximity – come together as a matter of convenience and security. In a community they can better defend their values and live happy and productive lives, knowing that they have the support of other community members who share their common beliefs, standards or whatever else has brought these people together.

Communities also require sacrifice by individuals within the community for the good of the community as a whole. People within a community realize that their private fears and longings often must take second place to the needs of the full community, and thus they must act responsibly in keeping these fears and longings private.

In any community, there will be minority groups who disagree with certain aspects of the community’s central standards and beliefs. And yes, it might be unfair that the views of these minorities are excluded by the majority. But would it not be a greater injustice to ask an entire community to change its standards and beliefs to reflect those of a small fraction? Why have we come to a time where the good of the few far outweighs the good of the many?

Indeed, excluding minority voices and experiences can often be a good thing for a community. Should a Jewish community feel guilty about excluding the views of Neo-Nazis? Or perhaps we should allow the Ku Klux Klan free reign to express its opinions in African-American neighborhoods. After all, we wouldn’t want to exclude any minority, no matter how small or how extreme, from freely being able to express its views.

One of the central problems with the dogma that holds all minority opinions and dissent as holy is that many of these opinions are very wrong. I would certainly be holding a minority opinion if I claimed that President Schapiro is a space alien trying to take over the world with an army of killer emus, but I would also be wrong. The proper response in that case would be to exclude and ignore me and only give me special attention in the form of a good therapist.

Moreover, a minority within the community has two very good options available to them that do not involve forcing their values upon the majority. Primarily, they can leave the community in favor of one that shares their views and standards. Wish the people in Backwater, Nebraska lived more like the people in New York City? Well, maybe you should move to New York City rather than try and make a New York City out of Backwater, Nebraska. For various reasons, moving may not be a valid option, and in that case, a minority has another option. It could form its own subcommunity, where the members of the minority can come together and be free to have their own standards and beliefs even when those standards and beliefs go against those of the community as a whole. This is especially valid at Williams, where just about every potential minority has a group catering to its own views and experiences.

It is true, as I have written in the past, that debate is the foundation of a college like Williams. Students must be presented with various contentious arguments and opinions as they continue to determine their own views throughout their college years. However, that only makes the use of obscene and anonymous chalkings a less valid form of expressing one’s opinion. This College offers a plethora of avenues for different views and opinions to be presented. I am personally a fan of writing in the Record; however, there are certainly many other methods to proliferate a message. You could hold a forum, invite a guest lecturer, create flyers, distribute pamphlets, publish your own newsletter or magazine, or hold weekly meetings open to the public. These methods would all provide a source for good debate and consideration of the issues without being insulting and offensive to the community as a whole.

The two things all of these methods provide are discretion and respect. Those interested in the debate would be free to discuss the issue, while those who would rather not talk about sex could avoid the debate. Unfortunately, the BGLTU has decided that its immediate attention is strong enough to supercede any respect for the values of the community. They refuse to allow people to make their own decisions about whether they wish to join the discussion by writing their message where even preschoolers cannot avoid it. Moreover, they further restrict an individual’s ability to enter into the discussion on their own terms by framing everything in such graphically sexual terms. In their efforts to gain publicity for their cause, they have replaced substance with obscenity and validity with provocation. This is not only a true affront to the stability and future of the community, but it has also done more to damage the legitimacy of their arguments and beliefs than any censorship ever could.

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