October 6, 2014

THOMAS | Keep Your Civility: Chaos Creates Change

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In a recent opinion piece penned by President David Skorton, he attempted to reconcile the ideas of free speech and civility. The column was well written and helped to make sense of how groups and institutions within the campus can promote positive solutions to serious issues. However, certain issues on campus and within the community are too demanding and too immense to be able to settle the issue on the fine line that reigns between the freedom of speech and civility. When dealing with certain issues, if civility is not breached then necessary change will never be wrought.

Last Tuesday, I attended a rally protesting campus rape culture in Willard Straight Hall, and from the start, the underlying message was clear. In one of the most powerful moments I have witnessed at Cornell, Bailey Dineen ’15 delivered a speech about their personal experiences of sexual assault. The words they spoke shocked me. The entire story, from the attack itself, to the method in which it was handled by Cornell, were not situations I believed were taking place in my community, let alone to my peers. Dineen touched on the fact that institutions such as Cornell need to be torn down because they have “never cared” about us and are the foundation for this culture of violence and domination. Although our fundamental beliefs begin to diverge with that last point, Dineen and I may be able to agree on potential methods to create effective change.

In these institutions, fundamental changes must be made through protests that are taken to the next level. I am more than willing to declare this belief after hearing Dineen and numerous women at Cornell expressing their constant fear of sexual violence on campus and beyond. With the police murders of Michael Brown and Eric Garner finally headed to a grand jury as heard in recent news, we are reminded yet again that even those institutions assigned to protect us seem to be aligned against us. After watching Eric Garner getting choked to death on video in July, I cannot simply continue on as a black man in America without fear. After hearing multiple stories in the news about sexual assault happening on campuses beyond ours — from Emma Sulkowicz at Columbia, to Jillian Doherty at Emerson College — without any judicial action, it is clear that women are not able to continue living in America without harboring fear as well.

As I think back to my own experiences of being followed around in stores, intimidated by cops, getting hostilely called the “N-Word” and being racially profiled, I know that I am not alone. For example, take the recent case in Ithaca of four unarmed minority teens having a police officer pull a gun on them. Yet, various underprivileged groups in the United States wake up and continue to allow it. Why not stand up together and protest to end this onslaught of violence and domination? Too often we hear that we need to stay calm and create more discussion on campus about the issue. We need to protest; not because privileged people are inherently evil, but because it is easy for those that are privileged to ignore the fact that others are still dealing with racism and sexism, despite how far people think America has come. I’m not saying we need to go as far as the Willard Straight Takeover — though the Takeover did force the civil rights movement into college campuses as Cornell became one of the earliest pioneers. However, we do need to be loud, we need to be abundant and, above all, we need to be in their face. We can become more rebellious while maintaining the law and ensuring nobody is harmed in the process. But, when we hold these rallies and protests, nobody should be able to walk to class without seeing us, nobody should be able to show up to work that day and not hear about us and no media organization should be able to avoid covering us. They say in order to understand a man you must walk a mile in his shoes. I say we need to make those living in ignorance of our struggles do this whether they want to or not. Skorton, I respect that you want us to be civil. But how can we be civil when we are living a life of chaos? Our chaos must become your chaos. Because, President Skorton, if someone is going to end up on the news in another case of police brutality it’s not you, it’s me.

Deon Thomas is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He may be reached at [email protected]. It’s Not Me, It’s You appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.