Monday, April 29, 2013

1 In Response to "The Daily is nobody's mouthpiece"

I appreciate back-and-forth exchanges in newspapers because they allow for the public to watch a battle of ideas between two perspectives that have the same number of column-inches to deliver an argument. If there was another issue of The Tufts Daily, I would have written this as a Letter to the Editor (and thus had to respect word limits).  Hopefully you will find this response and Craig Frucht's original letter titled The Daily is nobody's mouthpiece enlightening in some way.

I have been on the inside of a Daily meeting for an endorsement for TCU President and been witness to three others.  Last year, I met with the top of The Daily's masthead to discuss my vision for Tufts and what I hoped to advocate for the student body from the role of TCU President.  The other instances were as a peripheral member of the Sam Wallis campaign, a disinterested party as Tomas Garcia ran against Ben Richards, and then this year as an active member of Joe Thibodeau's campaign.  With that said, I would like to first of all say that I appreciate Craig's letter to the Editor.

The point that Craig raises is valid, that The Daily is not bound to any contract that obligates the editorial staff to endorse any candidate.  The Daily is its own entity and the staff are able to have their own opinions on the candidate they would like to endorse.  If there was, for example, an editorial board that actively believed that Tufts Quidditch needed more support for the student body to have some of its issues addressed, and there was a candidate championing that position, I would not be surprised if the editorial board endorsed said candidate.  I don't mean that with any backhandedness.  Genuinely, I believe that The Daily and its editorial board needs to have the freedom to formulate its own opinion.  As Craig says, they are not anyone's mouthpiece.

I absolutely agree with Craig when he says that, "the Daily was right to acknowledge that there are qualities worth considering in a candidate other than the extent to which he or she has advocated on behalf of marginalized groups."  That is spot-on because there certainly are other issues.  I never would have argued that we should exclusively pay attention to issues of marginalization and identity and I don't think any of these year's candidates, nor Wyatt, nor Sam, nor Tomas would say that the focus should exclusively fall upon these issues either.

I would however, and I think that the former TCU Presidents would likely agree with me on this point along with several of the Vice-Presidents, argue that policies, services, and projects need to better assess the ways they will affect students along lines of identity.  Socio-economic status, gender, sexuality, race, citizenship status, and ableism all complicate many of these initiatives because, let's be frank, there are differences to these experiences -- the recently-released Council on Diversity Progress Report makes that painfully clear when it writes, "Tufts ranks at the bottom of comparison schools in 
terms of frequency with which students report interacting with students diverse 
in race/ethnicity, nationality, and socio-economic background," or that, "The Retention Report from 2012 shows a significantly lower 6-year graduation rate for historically underrepresented students (Black/African American: 84.1%, Hispanic 82.7%) than White (94.2%)"

Something as seemingly universal as a safe, affordable, late-night shuttle from Boston will likely mean much more to a student from a lower income bracket who cannot afford the $40 cab fare from Boston back to Tufts.  Ensuring that Safe Rides can offer students transport from a wider radius will undoubtedly promote the safety of all students at Tufts -- but we cannot ignore the fact that an expanded Safe Ride system might more drastically improve the quality of life for women.  Improving relationships between Tufts students, TUPD, and our host communities will undoubtedly promote a friendlier climate for all Tufts students.  However, augmenting those relationships might do an especially significant amount of good for students of color who routinely bear the brunt of racial profiling and undue criminalization.

Yes, I agree with Craig when he writes, "The TCU president’s effectiveness working in concert with administrators impacts not just the work of campus activists but also the work of those who prioritize access to better research opportunities, more career resources and more outlets for community service." But, like I wrote in the preceding paragraph: race, class, gender, immigration status, and so forth complicate the effects of expanding research opportunities, career resources, and outlets for community service that Craig designates.  We cannot reasonably argue that a greater number of summer internship grants will affect the son of Larry Summers the same way as it will affect the life of a low-income student from DC or Chicago.  From my perspective, as the former Diversity and Community Affairs Officer on Senate and a member on the Executive Board of Pan-African Alliance, I do not think that "activist" elements are asking for issues of identity to be treated as superior to other causes; nor are they asking for issues of identity to negate other causes that seem more "universally relevant".  From what I can tell, the individuals who read Walker Bristol's column and who are engaged in arguing for the under-represented, under-resourced, and marginalized are simply asking that we account for the ways in which experiences, in fact, are not universal and the ways in which identities complicate our problems and solutions.  Think of something as seemingly mundane as the ramp that was constructed in front of President Monaco's house -- for a person who can walk, it offers an alternative route; for someone in a wheelchair, the ramp is the only thing allowing him or her to enter the house without much assistance.  

When we, as an institution, fail to interrogate the ways in which someone's race affects their interactions with their pre-orientation group, or their sexuality affects their experiences in fraternities, or their socio-economic status affects their ability to participate in all that Tufts has to offer, we are only coding for and investigating a small sub-set of the full picture -- and that blindness does a disservice to both the "activists" and the "kids who couldn't care less."

Also, and this may work very well with the preceding point, is that I think much of the noise made about The Daily's endorsement of Christie Maciejewski was misinterpreted by those who heard it.  I cannot speak for Walker but I can comment on the frustrations that I heard from others and the frustrations I felt.  I recognized Christie's contributions as a Senator and her long list of accomplishments.  Frankly, I think that Christie made a very compelling case for The Daily's editorial staff and was an absolute stand-out in the debates.  Christie knows the extent to which I admire her for everything she has done on Senate and the way she conducted herself during the campaign.  And, frankly speaking, if it could not be Joe Thibodeau who was endorsed by The Daily, I think that Maciejewski is the next-best fit.

For me, I think that much of the frustration supporters of Joe Thibodeau felt was that The Daily described Thibodeau as being little more than the activists' mouthpiece.  Joe Thibodeau, undoubtedly, had sweeping support from activist communities who were willing to chalk, design, rally, and mobilize in his defense and to help him win this election.  However, that does not mean that Thibodeau did not possess broad support from the non-activist community (a group that has been described without any real data as "the majority of Tufts students").  Thibodeau was not simply "the activist" candidate that The Daily described him as.  If anything, Joe Thibodeau was the coalition candidate, the person who brought together students who never would have been in the same room prior to the Thibodeau campaign.  Even I was surprised to find myself hugging a champagne-soaked Stephen Ruggiero on the night of Thibodeau's election.

And this characterization underpins much of the ground on which people made objections.  For one, "activists" are not a monolithic mass equally committed to all causes, tactics, and arguments.  I have been active in the push for Africana Studies and for racial equity on this campus.  I have also been committed to making Tufts a more affordable and livable place for students here on financial aid.  I have worked on issues pursuant to sexual assault and consent but not nearly as much as I have worked on issues of inclusion and marginalization.  I understand the argument for climate justice and to curb CO2 emissions but I will be the first one to tell Tufts Divest that what they did at that info session was really rude, ill-advised, and that they should have just apologized instead of issuing a meandering op-ed that failed to say, "I'm sorry.  We did something bad.  We will try not to do that again.  Climate justice is still important but we get it."  There is certainly a community of progressive-minded people here at Tufts who have a general sense of one another's battles, at the very least.  It tends to be that way among groups that aim to address structural inequalities.  However, we are not all equally committed to all the same causes because we are all different people with different histories and different points of entry.   Believe it or not, there is no secret cabal that dictates a progressive agenda outward.  Activists are actually just people!

Second, lumping all the "activists" into a group of individuals who do not have lives or concerns or cares beyond the issues they advocate for is especially problematic.  I have a housemate who has worked diligently to promote autism awareness but that does not erase her life as a member of Alpha Phi.  One of my closest friends founded Tufts Gun Club and annually fundraises for cancer research.  One of the new Co-Presidents of Pan-African Alliance is a Synaptic Scholar, professional photographer, and has starred in theater productions at Tufts -- while still making time to play intramural futsal.  These identities don't negate one another and it is unfair to define people as if they are "activists" alone -- or that even if they were, that being an "activist" is something outside of the range of what the "mainstream" or the "majority" of Tufts would care about. These "activists", just like the 27 lacrosse players, just like the Primary Source, just like the kids who play ping-pong on Saturdays instead of hitting-up Pro Row, are all part of the Tufts community.  I, or we, or you, or they, may be disappointed by, or disagree with, or resent, or try to wish-away, any of these components but the truth remains that any notion of "Tufts" is realized by assessing the sum of these constituent parts as opposed to the negation of one for the other.  We are allowed to have complex, and at times contradictory, identities because, well, because we can.

So I hear where Craig is coming from in some senses but I have to caution him against falling into the same false-dichotomy that perpetuates the issue.  For example's sake, Joe Thibodeau wasn't "the activist candidate".  
He is a student who enjoyed deep and far-reaching support from activist communities because of his history engaging matters related to identity and his commitment to problematizing and complicating in favor of fighting for the illumination of more complete truths.  
He is a student who enjoyed deep and far-reaching support from the staff of WMFO and students involved in drama productions because he performed in Over the Rainbow.  
He is a student who enjoyed deep and far-reaching support on Senate because he demonstrated, time and time again, the bona fides to be taken as a capable and inspiring leader.  
He is a student who enjoyed deep and far-reaching support among the student body because, well, if he didn't he would not have received 47% of first-place votes in a three-way race and won the TCU Presidency by a significant margin.

I agree with Craig, that activism needs to take its criticism when it deserves it.  The example of Tufts Divest's gaffe at the info session is just one of them.  I believe that, if anyone, the people who are criticizing should be prepared to take criticism.  I just want us to criticize "activists" in a way that doesn't frame them in opposition to the rest of the student body instead of as students who are engaging a different, equally valid, more politically-inclined component of their identity.

Thank you to Craig for allowing conversation to continue.



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