Tag Archives: politics

The Spectrum of Safety in Trumpland, by Katy Sperry

Northern Arizona University is located on an island of blue in an ocean of red in the state of Arizona¹. Since November 8, 2016, this island has felt much smaller to me. The day after the election I was walking to teach my 9:10 AM composition class, when I saw, for the first time on my campus, a student wearing the hat, cherry red, made in China, “Make America Great Again.” I started sobbing into the arms of a colleague I just happened to run into immediately after I saw the student.

My class was in small group workshops, and one group happened to have a large number of students of color and a student in the LGBTQ+ community. I found myself barely able to look at them, because, well because, the truth is that I am not very threatened by a Trump presidency. I am a white, cis, Christian, straight, middle class, woman. And yes, I am an artist and Trump threatens that, and yes I am a woman and Trump threatens that. But as I sat and looked at these students I saw the faces of people who were and are threatened and oppressed in ways I will never be.

Trump’s first one hundred days in office just passed. He has broken promises, supported sexual assaulters, threatened our national parks, and continues to threaten and further oppress the marginalized. But alongside these things, Trump’s behavior has emboldened a marginal group of students on my campus. Students who have always been here, replenishing themselves year after year. But, suddenly these students are no longer respectfully disagreeing with their peers, they are harassing their peers, their instructors, professors. They are threatening students and faculty. They are empowered to do this because the leader of our nation does it daily on Twitter and in interviews and in press conferences.

In the days following an election a Flagstaff resident, and presumed student, took to driving their pickup truck around NAU’s campus and downtown Flagstaff. The truck’s bed held a flagpole that flew two flags both cherry red, one read “Make America Great Again” the other has no words but thirteen white stars inside a blue “X” and is a symbol of slavery, oppression.

Students and humans can support whatever political candidates they choose, but when the candidate advocates for dropping bombs on Syrian civilians and calls Mexicans “rapists” and claims that men just have to “grab ‘em [women] by the pussy” his words are inherently threatening the safety of the people and communities around us. Supporting the man who says and does these things is inherently oppressing the people his words oppress, inherently threatening the communities he is threatening. Trump support has bulleted this blue island cherry red².

 

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¹Apache, Pima, and Santa Cruz Counties all voted blue in the 2016 election as well, but all counties in immediate proximity to Coconino County showed a vibrant hue of cherry, leaving Coconino County in a bloody sea.

²Remnants of traditional colonization and current neocolonization mean that threats and oppression are not new for the marginalized in Coconino County, specifically the Indigenous population of Flagstaff (whose stolen land we live on), they have been resisting oppression this whole time regardless of the color of the map.

Humankind v. Mankind: Freedom of Speech and Classroom Policies, by Katy Sperry

Recently my university got national spotlight because an alt right (read: nazi) website posted an article about a professor deducting a single point from a student’s essay for using the word “mankind” twice. A faculty member of the English department is being sent threats of death and rape for enforcing MLA language guidelines.

The students’ protesting this point deduction proclaim that their freedom of speech is being challenged by faculty enforcing gender-neutral language in their classes. As previously mentioned, “humankind” is the term recommended to refer to all mankind by the MLA. But, aside from this, I think it is important to talk about what free speech does not mean.

Free speech is not the ability to say whatever you like in any context, specifically inside the context of things like classrooms and places of employment. When you work at McDonald’s you cannot come to work wearing a Burger King uniform. There are rules and guidelines in life, and it’s important to be able to think critically about the difference between a removal of rights and an enforcement of guidelines and policies.

In the classroom, instructors enforce their syllabus’ policies. Policies concerning academic language and discourse are outlined on the course syllabus when necessary. The aforementioned faculty member did not tell the student they could not use the term outside of class or even that they could not use it in class. Rather, the faculty member clearly described the guidelines of the course in the syllabus and explained to the student that a failure to follow guidelines would result in grade reduction. This is the way school works, whether it is high school, trade school, or a four-year university. There are policies and guidelines that are enforced by the entire university and policies enforced in every individual classroom.

I work at the public library, and I am not allowed to take a political stance at work, so if I come to work carrying my “kiss my ass [democratic party logo]” sticker on my water bottle, my boss asks me to keep my water bottle in the back for the day. My boss isn’t taking away my freedom to use that water bottle outside of work, or even to step in the back and take a drink of water out of the view of patrons. Rather, she is enforcing the guidelines I agreed to when I got the job. If I don’t like it, I can use the water bottle anyway. But if I get fired for taking a political stance at work, that’s my fault, not hers.

Loud People Visiting Schools and a Brief Discussion of Birds, by Justin Kanzler

The three-wattled bellbird has a call audible to humans up to half a mile away; it lives primarily in Central America, and from the base of its beak protrude three long worm-like tendrils. Most, if given the choice, do not surround themselves with three-wattled bellbirds in part because they are very secretive, and in part, because they make for lousy pets. The megaphone shout of the three-wattled bellbird is not something anyone wants to come home to. Instead, people buy parrots, parakeets, pigeons, birds that may still be loud, but they aren’t absolutely painful to be around. When you’re half a mile from a pigeon, there’s not a chance you’ll hear that thing coo. It is not that nobody wants a bird for a pet, it’s that nobody wants a bird that’ll blast your eardrums while you’re in the shower because it thinks your towel looks like something it could make a baby with.

When we think about the difference between three-wattled bellbirds and parrots, we can also think about the difference between screaming and talking, between rage and dialogue. A man came to NAU recently, and he conducted himself like a three-wattled bellbird. He did not speak to students, he yelled at them. He did not discuss his ideas, but he loudly condemned the students who didn’t agree with them.

It’s important to say that it is not the ideas that made this man’s actions reprehensible, and it doesn’t matter if I disagree with him. It is not the ideas that made his presence toxic, it was how he presented those ideas, and he presented them as if there was no alternative.

He stood outside one of the more popular locations on campus and yelled to crowds passing by that they were doomed to hell, that what they believed made their lives worthless, that they would be judged and deemed unworthy. He was a three-wattled bellbird when he could have just as easily been a pigeon. He was loud, angry, and invited no discussion. When people say college students are afraid of dissenting opinions, they tend to ignore the fact that every side has people afraid of disagreement. When this angry man screamed at students, some students screamed back. We’ve got bellbirds on all sides. However, other students tried to talk to them, and they were met with the same hate and noise every other student had been attacked with. The bellbird can be heard from a great distance, and though being loud is great for getting your message heard, it is not so useful for discussion. Imagine you’re in court, and when it is finally your chance to present your case, the opposition screams “criminal!” any time you say a word. You’d get frustrated with the other side pretty quickly, not only because they think you’re a criminal, but because they aren’t letting you present your side. Instead, they just keep yelling.

So it isn’t that this man came to NAU to tell students their lives aren’t worth living. It isn’t that he disagreed with the students and believed they were too weak to accept that anyone believed something they didn’t. It’s that he came to campus, screamed his condemnations, and refused to acknowledge anyone who didn’t agree with him.

A natural counterpoint to all of this is that “in the real world” people will yell, they will scream, and they will be angry. A natural counter to that counter is that those yelling people are idiots who are so caught up in their own opinion that they refuse to acknowledge anyone can disagree with them, and disagreement does not doom cooperation, but rage does.

So what do you do when bellbird-ing about campuses doesn’t work, when yelling at and raging doesn’t get your point across. Remarkably, students are actually pretty decent listeners. They pay tens of thousands of dollars a year just to listen to people, so it makes sense that they’d be pretty good at it.

NAU has been host to a variety of visitors with ideologies they wish to spread. One such man is “Uncle” Don Fanning, a man who passes out stickers with “Peace Please” printed on them, and he talks to any students who want to talk to him. I have never spoken to Don Fanning, and the only reason I know his name is because of this article about him from 2003. The difference between Fanning and the yelling man is not only their message. One man screams his beliefs at people and the other talks about his perspective to anyone who wants to listen. One is a three-wattled bellbird, heard from a distance and loathed by everyone within half a mile, and the other is an African gray parrot, which are known for being highly intelligent and worthy companions. One is a toxic neighbor, the other is a pleasant friend. The ideas don’t matter, the discussion does. Students do not hate being confronted with ideas that go against what they believe. They hate what everyone hates: being called a criminal and then never allowed a chance to present their side.

The March for Science; by Jeanne Mack

When the March for Science happened in Flagstaff two Saturdays ago, I was not there. I wasn’t one of the local Science advocates parading down the street, banging on a drum, and shouting generally pro-Science things at the top of their voices. I wasn’t there, partially because I was at the Thin Air community writing workshop, but the fact is that I’m not sure I would have gone even if I was free.

Our workshop was held in the community room of the public library, which is right along the route that the March took as it circled downtown Flagstaff. We’d opened the windows to let in some fresh air, and as the warm breeze filtered into the room, so did the screams for Science and drumbeats in the not-so distant distance. As I listened, I thought about why I wasn’t willing to lend my support to “Science” in general.

It’s not because I don’t realize what good Science has done–furthering humanity’s understanding of the Earth we live on, enabling people to overcome deadly diseases, etc. It’s that I’m unable to overlook all the bad that Science has left in its wake as it powers forward, toward those impressive achievements.

For every life saved, there is another life that has suffered in the name of Science.

Imagine a close friend or family member of yours has a mental illness, maybe severe depression. Maybe you don’t even have to imagine this. But now imagine that when they go to a doctor to receive medical care, they are told that to treat their illness, a doctor will first need to sedate them and then drive a sharp ice pick-like instrument up through their orbitals, behind their eyes and into their brain, until their frontal lobe has been effectively killed.

Scientists, neurologists, and doctors believed that lobotomies were the cure for mental illness starting in 1936 in America. They held onto this belief for long enough that they were able to complete about 2,500 lobotomies.

Maybe thinking about the world with a scientific, analytic mindset allows for a certain remove from the human aspects of life–allows a scientist to view participants in an experiment as subjects and not people.

In the same era of lobotomies, there was also forced sterilization of the disabled, the non-binary gendered population, intersex populations, indigenous people, and ethnic minorities. There was the development of the H-bomb and atomic bomb, which allowed for the subsequent bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

I’d like to think that Science has learned valuable moral and ethical lessons from the horrors of its past. Ideally, scientists are more aware of both the positive and negative effects their work can and does have on the world. I’d hope that there’s more of a priority on slowing down, and thinking about things from every angle–appreciating the perspectives of those that their work directly impacts.

But it’s possible that Science will always inherently be at odds with less quantitative elements–like compassion, tolerance, and understanding.

I’ve been listening to a podcast that traces the fight for Mauna Kea, a sacred Hawaiian mountain that sits at over 13,800 ft elevation. While astronomers are desperate to construct a Thirty Meter Telescope at the top of the mountain in order to observe planets and stars and ancient galaxies with an eye sharper and more powerful than the Hubble Space Telescope, the local community is tired of having its sacred mountain defaced by scientists. Astronomers have already built sites on the mountain, and left the environment in disarray as a result. It’s a fight over the importance of Science’s quest to understand humanity’s origins and a community’s prioritization of preserving the culture and nature we already know about, immediately surrounding us.

Science has been and will continue to be a complicated arena, and while I understand that the March was in response to our President’s recent defunding of several different scientific programs and entities, and do not in any way support that defunding, it’s imperative that we remember the complexities that have arisen at the hands of Science. The lives of lobotomized and sterilized people, the damage caused by atomic bombs–were those sacrifices worth it? My inability to answer this question is what holds me back from championing Science as an inherently good cause.