For quite some time, Journal editors have been critical of the issues that have arisen during the Delegates’ Agenda. The most recent editorial took aim at the top-ranking issue, sustainability, on two fronts: that the idea of tackling sustainability is unrealistic for students and should “wait until after graduation;” and that the method in which sustainability arose to the top of the Agenda was by “manipulation of a vocal minority.” I find both of these opinions misguided, and I would like to offer some history, perspective, and suggestions.
The Delegates’ Agenda is a unique Webster creation in which the concerns of the students have been taken directly to the University administration, presented by student leaders who gain important skills, such as making professional presentations, conducting research, and serving as advocates for their fellow students.
Webster and the Agenda have been recognized in the student affairs profession with an award for the advocacy the Agenda promotes. It has been the topic of multiple presentations at regional and international conferences by myself, several student affairs colleagues, and former student presenters, during which we help explain to students and staff from other institutions how they can use the Agenda as a model to encourage advocacy on their own campuses. It has also continually evolved.
Though the Delegates’ Agenda has been occurring for about 12 years (and I’ve seen them all), it has only existed in its present format since the spring of 2008, when a fluke of scheduling split the Officers’ Summit in two, and the idea of the professional presentations was born. The concept of the administrative response arrived with Dr. Stroble. And, in an effort to cast a wider net of interest and ideas from the student body, the use of on-line surveys before the Agenda to both generate and rank issues is only two years old. Soon, an assessment will take place to evaluate how the process can improve even more for both the student presenters and the student body as a whole.
I firmly believe that groups of leaders organically having meetings in advance of the Delegates’ Agenda to promote their causes, as was done by the officers of Webster Students for Environmental Sustainability (WSES), is a positive step in the evolution of advocacy through the Agenda — not “manipulation,” as claimed by The Journal. Good for them! And shame on The Journal for not giving credit to the students in the 30+ other organizations in the room to be able to think for themselves.
The Journal staff has long had its own ideas about the most important issues affecting students, as shown by each time it responds to the agenda. But, these ideas have all had one thing in common — they were late.
The next Officers’ Summit is Friday, Feb. 3, 2012 I would look forward to a list of suggested Delegates’ Agenda topics published in the Feb. 2 issue of the Journal, demonstrating the advocacy that has historically been supported in the editorial pages of a newspaper. This would be another great example of students in leadership roles advocating their positions, and would no more be “manipulation” than the initiative taken by the officers of WSES.
Examples of students at Webster being advocates are unfortunately rare. As an advisor to Student Government Association (SGA), I am embarrassed for the student body when so few people run for SGA. If students feel that their interests are not being represented, they can step up and get involved, join or form a student organization, run for SGA, even become a writer for The Journal. Or, they can gather with students of similar interest and promote their ideas to fellow students so that they can influence the outcome — this is how things get done in the “real world,” and it is great that students can practice it at Webster.
Speaking of the real world, The Journal thinks that students should wait until they graduate before tackling the “lofty ideals of sustainability.”
But, as SGA President Justin Raymundo stated at the Delegates’ Agenda last week, this is the real world. One need only Google the terms “sustainability” and “university” to see that students across the country are influencing their institutions to pursue carbon neutrality and renewable energy, so-called “high-minded goals” by The Journal. Kudos to our students for having the passion about a topic that climate experts say cannot wait, to bring it here and now, and make a difference on the Webster campus. In her famous quote, Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Consider me proud to have known some world-changers when they were here at Webster.
John Ginsburg, Director
University Center and Student Activities
Webster is notorious for being a “liberal” campus. It is known as a safe haven for ideas of tolerance, multiculturalism, gay rights, and the like. “Liberal” ideas are not just tolerated, they are encouraged. In fact, these ideas are all but jammed down the throats of each and every student.
Webster stresses critical thinking, but it also stresses distinctly liberal ideology. The ideal Webster student is meant to question all authority and take nothing for granted; but also bombarded with the orthodoxy of a “progressive,” culturally sensitive, and globally oriented university that is 110% tolerant of gays and welcomes minorities with open and inviting arms. Webster claims to foster a free environment for open discussion, but a real questioning of this “liberal ideology” is closed. You can say anything at Webster — as long as it doesn’t conflict with the official doctrine: multiculturalism, gay-rights, gender equality, minority inclusion, etc.
I do not mean to suggest here that one shouldn’t support gay rights, or cultural sensitivity, or anything of the sort. My own ideas would typically be characterized as “leftist,” so do not mistake this piece for a reactionary conservative rant. But the atmosphere of Webster — and of the contemporary American “liberalism” to which Webster subscribes — is not an atmosphere of critical thinking. It is an atmosphere of orthodoxy.
Nearly every week there is some sort of “culturally sensitive,” minority oriented, or sex-and-gender based event on Webster’s campus — be it a discussion group, a film screening, a seminar, or a demonstration. The “message” of these events is always the same: Embrace multiculturalism! Respect and tolerate “the Other”! Support gay rights! Become a feminist! Vote Obama! Adopt every traditional platform of liberal ideology! The discussion never seems to go beyond these things; the analysis is never more complex. Each event serves to sustain the orthodox doctrine: those who don’t embrace other cultures and minorities are ignorant — we liberals are the only ones who understand. No real questions are asked; no real conclusions are reached. Ever present is a sense of smug self-congratulations, patting each other on the back once again for being more enlightened than those cretins who don’t subscribe to our “liberal views.”
The easiest way to question the notion of “cultural sensitivity” is to bring up female genital mutilation, which is practiced in 28 African countries as well as in parts of Asia and the Middle East. Must we be “sensitive” to this practice? After all, it occurs in cultures different from ours — what right have we to judge it? The reply from a liberal doctrinaire might be: “But this is a violation of a human right. The women don’t have a choice.” This response breaks the rules again: It assumes that these cultures have the notion of “human rights,” and it assumes that, in these cultures, women have rights in society. These two ideas — human rights and women’s rights — are distinctly Western in origin. Isn’t going to a culture that practices female genital mutilation and wagging our finger an act of cultural imperialism? This is just one possible example among many. Suppose a Webster student were to meet a racist, gay-bashing, “redneck” character type—would the Webster student “tolerate” this character? Wouldn’t s/he have to, to be in line with “multiculturalism”?
One cannot question these ideas without inevitably being branded a “bigot” or a “homophobe” or a “racist” or a “sexist.” One runs the risk of alienation if one tries to speak honestly about these things.
Contemporary, “Daily Show” liberalism actually undermines the very ideas it intends to purport. Under this totalitarian regime of “liberalism,” “tolerance” for the Other quickly becomes worship of the Other. We are not taught to treat gay people the way we would treat anyone else, we are taught to love gay people. We are not encouraged to treat minorities with equality, we are encouraged (however subtly) to have as many minority friends as possible. These notions are not helpful; they are in fact detrimental to progress and equality. The Webster-staple of “celebrating diversity” only serves to put the Other on a pedestal as “special” — and to define the Other as being the Other. But, of course, these remarks are heresy on Webster’s campus.
Perhaps there are those who do question this orthodoxy, but stay silent; they are petrified of going against what the platform has deemed appropriate. To me, a truly “liberal” campus would encourage a critical questioning of every subject down to the end—it would not stop once we start to question the prevailing liberal ideology. As it is, Webster is no less indoctrinating than Bob Jones University. What we indoctrinate is different, of course, but it is indoctrination nonetheless.
Larry Busk, Student