Letter to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

November 21, 2016

 

To the University of Puget Sound community:

 

As members of faculty of the University of Puget Sound, we write this letter at a moment which we recognize as a difficult one here on this campus and in this country. The divisiveness of our current political discourse is at best a disappointment to those of us who seek meaningful engagement with one another across ideological borders, and at worst an intensified threat to many of us whose identities have long occupied spaces of disempowerment in our society as we know and experience it.

It is in full recognition of the need for courageous, careful, and creative being and speaking in this charged climate that we register how profoundly troubled we are by the circulation of a list of Puget Sound students and staff labelled as rapists, racists, transphobic, xenophobic, sexist, and misogynistic bigots. The dehumanizing behaviors spoken of here are sadly present in our country and on our campus, and they should have no place in our community. Even so, we cannot condone the accusation of members of our community without evidence and context, especially when made from behind a veil of anonymity. Such claims, even when well-intended, are destructive to the kind of intellectual and social community that we seek on our campus and are anathema to the ideals of a liberal arts education or any free society.

 

Seeking to build an inclusive community demands an openness to public conversation about that which makes us most uncomfortable. At the same time, we recognize that this particular moment and the ways in which it may exacerbate and appear to enshrine long standing patterns of exclusion and marginality is a deeply painful one for many of us. When being silenced is all too normal an experience, latent anger may be expressed in ways that do not serve well. If we are to do better by one another, we must find ways to listen to one another and speak about what scares us and why. We must also ensure that our systems of accountability work for all.

 

A university is a place where people come from all over the United States and the world, from many walks of life, and differing backgrounds, to learn and grow as a community. Across the country, campuses are wrestling with how to create a safe and comfortable learning environment while protecting the openness and free speech required for true learning and understanding. At Puget Sound our mission is to “encourage the full, open, and civil discussion of ideas; thoughtful moral discourse; and the integration of learning, preparing the university’s graduates to meet the highest tests of democratic citizenship.” We understand those tasks to require that our university be a place for expressing opinions and ideas in a manner that is conducive to intellectual exploration and growth. Sometimes engaging with ideas that are contrary to our own can be disturbing and unsettling, but to challenge such ideas we should engage in open dialogue where we co-construct more and better ideas.

 

Let history be our guide here: secrecy and suspicion are the tools of oppressive structures and regimes. Rather than serve justice, such tools serve the holders of power by undermining community cohesion and instilling mistrust among family, friends, and neighbors, and ultimately serve as a means to reinforce ideological conformity through fear. Those who resist systems of oppression must also reject the tools of the oppressors, as Audre Lorde tells us. They must rely on different tools instead: they must build environments of openness and relationships of solidarity.

 

This kind of resistance was evident during last year’s walkout, when so many brave students spoke their truths openly, on the steps of Jones Hall, in a way that allowed them to be heard and, perhaps for some, really understood for the first time. It happened again last Wednesday, the day after the presidential election, when many of our faculty, student, and staff colleagues participated in an open forum in which we were all invited to listen deeply to one another; to seek common cause with one another, even with those who might not, at first glance, seem to be our political allies; to consider how our best intentions at inclusion might nonetheless be exclusive; and to be honest about our own complicities in systems of power that oppress others.

 

It is important to remember that the university has procedures for dealing with such serious accusations as the ones made in the flyer, procedures that are consonant with the principles of the rule of law that underpin all democratic communities. If any student has knowledge of an act of violence or hate, they should bring charges under the University’s Student Integrity Code or the Harassment & Sexual Misconduct Policy. If any student feels threatened they should seek out the myriad resources on this campus for support.

 

We understand that for some, the system doesn’t seem to be working. We will listen more, especially to voices in our community seeking to draw our attention to such failings. We are also cognizant of the charge that respectability politics and its supporting practices of civility and decorum in institutions like ours have served as masks for the preservation of injustice while condemning those outside of the status quo to a stance of voicelessness. We take this charge seriously and commit ourselves to even more openness to ensure that our civility functions to protect rather than preclude full participation. We further commit ourselves to even more keen attention to historically suppressed voices. When the university’s resources have failed any member of our community, then we must be willing to confront that failure as a community, too. To that end, the signatories of this letter pledge their support to all community members, including those who were named in the flyer and those who participated in its creation, and particularly those who feel powerless; to walk alongside, support, and defend them; and to use our collective voices to demand better of ourselves and others. That is our promise to you—made out in the open, in the hope of fostering honest engagement.

 

We call on the campus community to rededicate itself to the principle of free speech as well as to the principle of treating others with dignity and respect. With such a renewed commitment we can continue the journey towards our collective mission of liberating “each person’s fullest intellectual and human potential to assist in the unfolding of creative and useful lives.”

 

With love and concern for our community,

 

Seth Weinberger, Politics & Government

Alisa Kessel, Politics & Government

Robin Jacobson, Politics & Government

Dexter Gordon, African American Studies and Communication Studies

Rachel DeMotts, Environmental Policy and Decision Making

Grace Livingston, African American Studies

Kristin Johnson, Science, Technology & Society

John Lear, History and Latin American Studies

Monica DeHart, Sociology & Anthropology and Latin American Studies

Terry Beck, Education

Katherine Smith, History

Jeffrey Matthews, Business & Leadership

Alison Tracy Hale, English

Chris Kendall, Politics & Government

Brett Rogers, Classics

Nancy Bristow, History and African American Studies

Greta Austin, Religious Studies and Gender & Queer Studies

Suzanne Holland, Religious Studies, Bioethics, and Honors

Pierre Ly, International Political Economy

Tiffany Aldrich MacBain, English

Jess Smith, Theater Arts

Brendan Lanctot, Hispanic Studies and Latin American Studies

Emelie Peine, International Political Economy

Peter Wimberger, Biology

Renee Simms, African American Studies

Erin Colbert-White, Psychology

Stacey Weiss, Biology

Margi Nowak, Sociology & Anthropology

Carl Toews, Mathematics & Computer Science

Betsy Gast, Education

Darcy Irvin, English

Julia Looper, Physical Therapy

Leslie Saucedo, Biology

Vanessa Koelling, Biology

Matt Pickard, Mathematics & Computer Science

Nick Brody, Communication Studies

Nila Wiese, Business & Leadership

Poppy Fry, History

Jeff Grinstead, Chemistry

Kena Fox-Dobbs, Geology and Environmental Policy & Decision Making

Mita Mahato, English

Geoff Proehl, Theater Arts

Sara Freeman, Theater Arts

Sarah Moore, Psychology

Dan Sherman, Environmental Policy & Decision Making

Steve Rodgers, French Studies

Rachael Shelden, Learning Support Services

Joyce Ramee, Music

Lynnette Claire, Business & Leadership

Wendell Nakamura, Occupational Therapy

Lisa Ferrari, Politics & Government

Barry Goldstein, Geology

Matt Warning, Economics

Tim Beyer, Psychology

Grace Kirchner, Education

Eric Orlin, Classics

Andrew Gomez, History and Humanities

Michael Johnson, Art & Art History

Tatiana Kaminsky, Occupational Therapy

Susan Owen, Communication Studies and African American Studies

Andrew Monaco, Economics

Denise Despres, English, Humanities, and Honors

Jeff Tepper, Geology

Rand Worland, Physics

George Tomlin, Occupational Therapy

Françoise Belot, French Studies

Lisa Wood, Psychology

Julie Nelson Christoph, English and the Center for Writing, Learning, & Teaching

Douglas Sackman, History and Environmental Policy & Decision Making

Andrew Gardner, Sociology & Anthropology

John Hanson, Chemistry

Bernard Bates, Physics

Amy Ryken, Education

Ben Tromly, History

Elise Richman, Art & Art History

Kent Hooper, German Studies & Humanities

Paul Harris, Music

Heather White, Religious Studies and Gender & Queer Studies

Gary McCall, Exercise Science and Neuroscience

Diane Kelley, French Studies

Fred Hamel, Education

Jennifer Pitonyak, Occupational Therapy

Pat Krueger, Music

Alan Krause, Business & Leadership

Sigrun Bodine, Mathematics & Computer Science

Sara Protasi, Philosophy

Kriszta Kotsis, Art & Art History

Renee Houston, Communication Studies

Beverly Connor, English

Linda Williams, Art & Art History

Kate Stirling, Economics

Lea Fortmann, Economics

Courtney Thatcher, Mathematics & Computer Science

Aislinn Melchior, Classics

Keith Ward, Music

Gwynne Brown, Music

Dan Burgard, Chemistry

Kirsten Wilbur, Occupational Therapy

Nick Kontogeorgopoulos, International Political Economy

Joel Elliott, Biology

Tanya Erzen, Religious Studies and Gender & Queer Studies

Luc Boisvert, Chemistry

Bryan Thines, Biology

Jennifer Utrata, Sociology & Anthropology

Amy Spivey, Physics

Derek Buescher, Communication Studies

George Erving, English, Humanities, and Honors

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