Isn’t it ironic. Last week I opened up the Record, and first noticed three op-eds on page three encouraging us Williams students to become active and involved in the political process. I had just spent a weekend in Washington, D.C. with other student organizers working on effective strategies to fight global HIV/AIDS and was inspired by the voices reminding us of the power we have to incite social and political change. How often had I heard professors lament that we did not take politics into our own hands. Now I finally had the evidence that we were actually starting to change things.
Then I saw the headline “Chaplain sparks faculty reaction.” I was afraid I already knew what that was about. The Chaplain had dared to ask people on the Students for Social Justice (SSJ) listserve if any were interested in contacting Senators and Representatives concerning the war on Iraq. The responses he got to this were apparently so strong that he retracted his offer to work on this with students the very next day.
When I saw his e-mail apologizing for having asked, I was appalled. Why would anyone criticize this effort? Here is the College Chaplain, who works with many different campus groups and is approachable for anyone who is interested in working with him, trying to encourage students to have a voice in the political process, yet being completely undermined by faculty and students. Why is that?
If it were purely a matter of policy about the use of office phones, a short reminder concerning the financing of partisan political activities would have sufficed. (Though truly, there is no doubt that Spalding would have welcomed anyone who cared enough to call his or her political representatives. If the entire Garfield Republican Club had showed up saying they wanted to make phone calls to politicians in support of the war I believe he would have encouraged this.)
This was a case of threatened conservatives harping on financial rules for the sake of stifling political dialogue or opposition, hiding behind the claim that the action was intended to be inappropriately partisan. Mark Gundersen, president of the Garfield Republican Club, said, “It seems to reveal the true purpose that only one organization with a predictable point of view was contacted.”
Williams community members are interested in many different things and can’t always be assigned to a particular group on every issue. We are cross-listed as spies and counterspies on the various listserves of this campus, and it would be naive at best to assume only a particular political group would hear such a message. If Gundersen had heard of the e-mail and was so worried that only “predictable” SSJ members would respond, it was up to him to forward the offer to the Garfield Republicans and any other group which he considered worthy (and he most certainly would have reached some Democrats that way, too).
So this brings us back to the eternal question: “Why are Williams students so apathetic?” One of the reasons is that the educators on this campus who ought to support us in our political development are instead hiding behind rules and policies for the sake of an illusion of objectivity. When will people on this campus realize that saying nothing and accepting the status quo is in itself a political action? If you decide not to speak out about something, you are, in essence, endorsing it. Does this then mean that the college campus as a whole is fully supportive of the war in Iraq? I don’t think so. But as a result of our “non-partisan” policies as a whole, that is how our college is behaving.