Clamoring for productive discord

People at Williams have the nicest ways of saying, “Wow, that thought was stupid.” For example, “That is a great idea, but did you account for this, or have you considered that?” I’ve only been at Williams a little over a semester, and already I’ve learned that if you don’t have anything nice to say, disagree with sugar on top. A recent Record article (“Faculty examine classroom dynamics, culture,” Feb. 18) noted that some professors believe “students’ extreme politeness” hindered classroom discussions. How bad must a problem get that we refer to politeness as extreme? Think extreme sports, extreme cold, extreme pleasure, extreme pogo-sticking, and now try and apply those thoughts to table manners.

Last semester I served on College Council (CC) as the Mills representative, and there I learned that all disagreements should be so subtle you won’t even know they are even happening. During my semester on CC only a handful of votes were not unanimous. Perhaps I’m naïve, but shouldn’t we be tackling issues that are at least a little controversial? Acting as a rubber stamp for the student activities tax is fun and has its own thrills, but perhaps there is merit in chasing after a few far-fetched goals. Nick Daen ’10 and Mark Pulde ’10 ran with the idea that they were willing to fight the system if they had to, and for all CC did while I was on it (and we really did do a lot, check that pamphlet for details), that was something we often avoided. Where’s the fun in it all without occasionally being a thorn in the system’s side? Disagree; live a little, before the consequences for doing so become too great. One of my fondest CC memories occurred when the unwritten politeness law was broken: the acting Minority Concerns representative wanted to “express the immensity of [his] pissed-ness” at the inactivity of the Committee on Community Interactions (CCI) over the few months since CC and CCI had last met. What a rare moment of true emotion, genuine and understandable outrage. Priceless.

However, there is only so much CC can do. Without the collective voice of the student body, CC is little more than a handful of well-meaning students with already stretched schedules. Looking back I still don’t know how Peter Nurnberg ’09 and Jeremy Goldstein ’09 managed it all; I do not mean them, nor anyone else on CC, any disrespect. Williams’ red tape requires finesse in maneuvering that few have, but it also takes a certain tenacity and bluntness that I know I at least lacked while serving on CC. What I believe CC and the student body needs is a framework and mindset that allows disagreement and a more open sharing of actual opinions. What I mean is that I don’t want to keep hearing the softened musings of overly cautious students too afraid to go out on a limb. People should be truer to what they are actually thinking – add a little controversy to a subject. Nothing sparks classroom discussion like an outrageous or original opinion. When was the last time you saw someone galvanize a discussion? It is a verb that is regrettably fading away.

Perhaps I am just a little bitter. I recently lost the election for Class of 2012 representative on CC to Newton Davis ’12, and in fact I lost quite handily. I will move on. I’ll internalize some set of excuses and ideas for what I could have done better, and the world will keep turning. What I regret most, however, is that the campaigning wasn’t that much fun. I hung up a few posters, gave a brief speech, tried to spread the word as best I could. Where is the competition? Where is the sense that we were each in it to win? Actual politicians depict their opponents as wolves; they lie about them, insult their character and draw attention to loosely connected former associates and pastors. Why can’t we have a flavor of that? Nothing too barbaric – we are, after all, civilized and genteel Williams – but something that will really spark interest every year. Wouldn’t it make for a more exciting race if instead of just talking about what we will bring to CC, there was an audience responsive to comments about what our opponents won’t bring? “Sam Jonynas spoke up little during CC meetings, has a poor taste in clothes and frankly reminds me of one of the guys from Hanson.” Campaigns in general are run on far less substantial issues all the time.

If you’ve taken anything from this, just try and be a little extra observant next time you are in class. Do you ever have that urge to just say something that people will get mad at, something that might make you out to be just a bit insensitive? Give in to your urges. I just did for the last 800 words. Trust me, it feels good.

Sam Jonynas ’12 is from Chester, Vt. He lives in Mills.