I was recently chatting with a friend about the issue of political exclusivity at Tufts. He expressed his frustration with the lack of range in political debates and discussions surrounding identity at Tufts. Interestingly enough, he echoed similar sentiments that I’ve heard shared by people of color, by women and by people with accents foreign to America.
Because he holds views that are controversial at Tufts, my friend was extremely cautious about what he shared with me, knowing that I am writing a column about this topic, even while knowing that his name would not be attributed to his ideas. This goes to show how fearful he is of being harshly criticized and potentially ostracized at Tufts. Being of a dominant identity is not enough of a reason to disqualify someone from taking a stance on a political or social issue. There is a line between saying something that goes against the mainstream discourse and saying something that brings serious harm, and I find that here at Tufts, we often confound the two. This is where freedom of speech can be confusing. Where is the line drawn?
I, too, must keep myself in check so that I don’t disqualify someone’s point. Recently, I was discussing issues of the systems surrounding sexual assault with a friend who argued that his identity makes him extremely cautious, for he is worried about being wrongfully accused and having no way out of being persecuted because of his identity. My immediate impulse was to tell him that he was wrong, because he cannot understand what it feels like to be someone who has been assaulted; he cannot understand what it feels like to be a woman living in a veiled but consistent state of alertness and concern for safety every day. He may also never have been forced to think in the shoes of someone who worries about getting home safely at night, someone who immediately thinks about their physical safety when their phone battery dies. The same can be said for me; I struggle to empathize with someone like him, who can walk dark streets with his biggest fear being his wallet, be on a packed train with his biggest fear being accused of violating someone’s boundaries. Disqualifying his views from the onset, because he simply does not ‘understand’ mine, is not a way to build conversation and communication. If I really believe that I am in the right, then I should have the flexibility of thought to walk in his shoes and try to help him understand even a yard in mine.
Doubt not. Minority representation matters. Humility from the majority and concern for others matter. Inclusion of all individuals and remembering that there’s more to a book than its cover also matters. Check your privilege, we say. We should. We should also check to see if our liberal beliefs have turned into the inability to recognize individuality, made safe spaces into fenced exclusive territories and transformed words into weapons.