The most unfortunate thing about Tufts is that people who care deeply about issues like systematic discrimination, sexual violence, political/economic justice (and the rest of the issues that get talked about in this section of the paper all the time) very rarely realize that their efforts are often counterproductive. Some of you are very eloquent, and your thoughts and arguments are refreshing to hear. But too many of you are focused on characterizing issues in the strongest, most polarizing ways possible, throwing your real or imagined victimhood in others’ faces, disrupting people from their everyday worries like grades, careers and aspirations and satisfying your own desire to be heard by shouting (literally or figuratively) as loudly as possible.
As someone who is sympathetic to most of the fervent activists on this campus (at Tufts advocacy is generally a one-sided affair) – you are being counterproductive. Individually, you may just be a noble-minded, passionate defender of X cause – but collectively, I find myself writing off many of my peers as naive, insufferable ideologues. Few here are consciously participating in the deprivation of the dignity of others, and chastising others for what they perceive as innocent missteps is likely only to alienate them.
Understanding what it really means to walk in someone else’s shoes is quite difficult. So is perfect navigation of complex social relationships based on gender, race, class, sexuality and every other category one may or may not use in self-definition. Slandering someone else for standing on the only side they’ve ever been exposed to will not win you supporters – you need to walk over to where your opposition stands, understand why they care about the things they care about and explain why the system on your side of the line is going to make life better for everyone. On this campus, I think much of the discourse is between people who agree but are talking past each other – losing much in the way of potential real change outside Tufts by squabbling on campus over semantics, turf and wounded pride.
Additionally, I think a number of Jumbos have the idea that haranguing others for their ill-formed opinions (or even sound ones articulated poorly) is a great way to feel like they are making a difference. But vitriol is not catharsis – it’s just vitriol. Leading by example and finding ways to make personal impacts on people with whom you may disagree with the most are the best ways to change people’s minds. I would still be an ignorant bumpkin from small-town Pennsylvania were it not for people more insightful than I who rebutted – not corrected – my flawed viewpoints and forced me to consider how others conceived and experienced big issues like justice and self-identity. While I think students here are by and large well-informed, we all have our blind spots – and it’s easier to eliminate them in others through disarming friendliness rather than a hostile rant or pompous showboating.
I want to be clear here: I’m not saying any of my peers should pipe down because they’re making me uncomfortable. A little discomfort can be intellectually fruitful. However, I do think that what is morally sound can be tactically ineffective. Jumbos tend to miss the forest for the trees – we focus so much on structural violence academically in our coursework that we fail to realize that most of the opportunities to make a difference for other students on campus are centered on micro-level interactions. There are many echo chambers at Tufts, and it’s easy to become smug about one’s ideological superiority when there are no audible voices of dissent. Tolerance is key to having constructive discourse about important issues, not the grandstanding or hard-line political correctness that activist students at Tufts have become unfortunately linked to.
Alex Dobyan is a sophomore majoring in international relations. He can be reached at Alex.Dobyan@tufts.edu.