With my first post of the academic school year, I wanted to address the new freshmen who may stumble across the Women’s Center’s blog – welcome, you guys! – but in light of events occurring this week, I feel as though it’s more important to discuss something else first.
For those of you who are new on campus, or simply have the fortune of not knowing, I’m speaking of a man. A man who goes by “Brother Jed.”
At the University of Minnesota, we generally accept everyone’s opinion. We have CASH – the Campus Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists group – alongside QSCC – the Queer Student Cultural Center – alongside the pro-life groups who hand out pamphlets with pictures of aborted fetuses on campus. (Note: There might be a slight bias displayed here – can you tell?)
This summer, I came out to my family – with rather disastrous results. (It’s something I’ll talk about extensively later on in the semester.) So, to be fair, I’m a little “sensitive” right now. I don’t particularly feel like hearing slurs or hateful remarks or anything of the sort. It’s not in my health’s best interest, I don’t think. I’m on campus to try to overcome personal issues and learn – for not only myself but for the people I hope to help in the future.
However, today, that is going to be difficult.
I don’t mind when people express their opinions. It’s fine with me if you’re pro-life, anti-gay, xenophobic, or what have you. I mean, honestly, it’s not fine with me because I don’t like things that hurt other people – and in my opinion, all three of those stances hurt other people – but you’ve your right to your opinion. Even so, I feel as though others have the right to hear your opinion in a civil manner, yes?
What I’m saying right now is a completely personal opinion that doesn’t extend to anyone else on blogging staff or the University Women’s Center – that should be obvious just by seeing that I’m a volunteer here. However, personally, this is my hierarchy of preference when displaying opinions:
I prefer calm, rational discussion to shouting angrily in public.
I prefer politeness to strangers while handing out pamphlets to throwing pamphlets at passersby.
I prefer pictures of cute little children – emotionally manipulative as I may find them – to pictures of medical waste and the biological aftermath of a performed abortion.
I prefer my violating, scarring photographs of medical waste in pamphlets to seeing them on big, publicly visible signs on campus. (This is more due to the fact that UMN is family-friendly and home to world-class hospitals – along with Amplatz, a hospital specifically for pediatrics – and I see little kids here daily.)
I prefer “God does not condone your clothing choices” to “You deserve to be raped because of that skirt.”
And, yes, on other campuses, it has been documented that Brother Jed has yelled this out to students passing him by and not wearing what he finds acceptable.
So, you see, I hope you can understand that I’m not against healthy discourse. Really, I’m not. I may be considered “liberal” in my viewpoints, but I have no problem coexisting with my “conservative” counterparts. My only askance is that both sides show respect for human beings, and that’s not what’s occurring here. It’s not what’s occurred in the past, and I’m tired of it.
So, my question to you: What responsibility does the University have in keeping its public spaces – and the University does have control over who is on those public spaces – safe for all students? It sounds like a silly question: of course the university should be responsible for keeping its public spaces safe for all students to access!
But, what constitutes as “safe?” Just because it’s physically safe doesn’t necessarily mean that students will feel safe in other ways. Just because Brother Jed doesn’t throw something physically at a woman passing by doesn’t mean she wouldn’t feel assaulted if he said she “deserved to be raped” for wearing a skirt today. Why does the university allow this? Should they be more prepared? Brother Jed is a yearly visitor here at the Twin Cities campus – isn’t it time we tell him he’s no longer welcome?
If people have been too anxious to say it before now, I’m not afraid to: I find him extremely uncomfortable to be around, and I don’t want to be sharing university space with him. I’m here to learn, not to listen to things that are – excuse the overused term – triggering.
There’s a quote that often gets misattributed to Plato: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” That’s especially true on a college campus – on any cranny of this planet, really – so perhaps we should kindly show those who don’t understand such a concept the door.
For those curious, there’s a Facebook event dedicated to organizing welcoming committees for Brother Jed’s campus activities while he’s here. (I believe his set final day is tomorrow, Friday the 14th – bring your farewell party hats!)
[MN Daily also posted an article regarding the topic, featuring my dearest friend from high school as their photo cover: http://www.mndaily.com/2012/09/13/student-groups-join-forces-protest-evangelist’s-visit]