On Wednesday, I was struck by how much student trustee Darrick Nighthawk Evensen grad, in his column criticizing Scorpions X, actually avoided addressing any of their claims about the campus environment. The way this writer and others have reacted to The Cornell Nightly Moon suggests that they have not really understood its purpose. In the interests of discussion — which, if I have read them correctly, is one of the things the Scorpions X really wants — I offer the following, not as a definitive account of what the Scorpions X are trying to do, but merely as one possible aspect of it.
The crux of the author’s argument is that the Scorpions X claim the administration does not care about students, and that this is false. The point on which the argument fails is this: He has misunderstood the sense in which the administration does not care, according to the Scorpions X. Presumably President Skorton and others are troubled by bias incidents and sexual assault on campus, as Evensen has illustrated, and in that sense they care. Though I cannot speak for Scorpions X, I imagine that most observers are willing to concede this. What they may not concede is that the administration really sees all of the complex factors that contribute to these incidents — structural inequalities, power imbalances, prejudiced attitudes and the like — or that they even recognize all instances of marginalization on campus as such. The Scorpions X would not concede this because they see that the administration has not in fact addressed these factors.
If the administration really does not address or even recognize these complex factors, then it casts doubt on whether the sense in which they do care about students is sufficient for student well-being. Out of this arises the assertion that the administration does not care about (some) students — does not care in a deeper, more thoroughgoing sense. The Scorpions X argue that they do not care in this deeper sense because the fact the administration ignores the complex factors like those above means they do not see them as urgent or important, when in fact those factors hurt a large percentage of students in their daily lives at Cornell.
So we have two senses of caring: (1), caring as an abstract concern for well-being; and (2), caring that couples abstract concern for well-being with careful attention to all the complex factors that affect that well-being. I want to suggest that one way of seeing the critiques of Scorpions X is as a way to make apparent the gap between these two types of care, and try to push us towards the second (2).
Perhaps a metaphor to illustrate the point (apologies to Voltaire): Imagine we have a gardener taking care of many types of plants in her garden. She knows that all the plants need sunlight and water, and in that sense cares about her garden. However, for whatever reason, she does not recognize that the roots of one plant are choking out the roots of another. So she continues to water all the plants, without addressing the problem underneath the soil. Surely we would not say that this gardener really cares about her garden in sense (2), even if she does in sense (1).
The column’s misunderstanding about these senses of caring is revealed by the following statement, which shows that the author has not looked at the complex factors Scorpions X are pointing to: “Yes, every decent human being should be appalled at these occurrences, should want the villainous perpetrators brought to justice …” The Scorpions X do not seem interested primarily in determining who are the villains and “bringing them to justice” — rather, they question the very concept of prejudiced “villains” in isolation from the larger culture, and they want to ensure that the social system of the University does not encourage and protect the emergence of these perpetrators of racism, sexism and heterosexism. As one example, they question how the University can really support students belonging to racial and cultural minorities if they don’t address the effects and implications of racism, historical and present, in our own institutional setting — the strangling roots underneath the soil, so to speak.
The column portrays itself as a defense of “reality,” but curiously, the author’s reality ignores the realities of many others, who have been on the receiving end of prejudice at Cornell — and often prejudice as a symptom of systemic inequalities. It is this very approach — dogmatically asserting a vision of reality that in fact fails to address all of reality’s complex factors — to which the Scorpions X seem opposed. I am not sure what the column’s moralizing tone and its suggestion that the Scorpions X are akin to “criminals,” are supposed to do other than shut down their critiques with the force of a supposedly higher authority. In either case, all the the column’s author has succeeded in doing is shifting the focus of conversation from structural inequalities to the supposed vices of those critiquing these inequalities, which has the effect of deflecting calls for change, even if unintentionally.
The author asserts that the attacks of Scorpions X are “malicious” — but it is a mystery to me how he would know they were motivated by a desire to cause harm, especially since he seems to have spent so little time considering their arguments. On the contrary, it seems to me reasonable to presume that the Scorpions X are motivated by a deep concern for the University, since they show an interest in uncovering those factors that are necessary to consider if one is to care for students in the deeper sense (2) described above. Their polemical style is an attempt to rouse the slumbering beast of the University, which is rather disposed towards ignoring or shutting down discussion of structural inequalities, as the recent response shows. This critique is groundwork that needs to be done before meetings between administrators and students can be effective, as I certainly hope they will be.
In that spirit, I encourage all to actually read The Nightly Moon, which can be found on the Scorpions X website, for themselves.
Daniel Young is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.