My senior year at Berry College, we had a dilemma on campus, and I’m sure many administrative staff members viewed it as a PR nightmare.
It was the fall of 2016 and the presidential election was swiftly approaching. With that year being the first year I was eligible to vote for a presidential candidate, I was trying to research and figure out where on the political spectrum I would place myself.
And like the (somewhat) dedicated student I was, I was going to class one morning when I saw a group of students hovered around an area outside the building I was trying to get into. At first it was more than a nuisance than anything – I was already running late and needed to get into the lecture hall.
But when I saw what everyone was talking about and freaking out about, it made more sense. Overnight, a few students had gotten chalk and written on the sidewalk in front of the science building encouraging others to vote for Donald Trump for president.
However, it wasn’t simply harmless campaigning. The chalk artists had written rude, derogatory and demeaning comments toward women, people of ethnic and racial minorities, immigrants, refugees, the LBGTQ+ community, and others who don’t fit into certain demographics. The chalk “art” was offensive, calling groups of people names and quoting Trump’s more controversial Twitter posts.
Based on reading some of the recent columns in our paper and nearby papers, I understand that some people are getting tired of our increasingly sensitive culture where even holiday songs can be considered offensive.
But to see “build the wall” and “grab them by the *****” plastered on my college campus, supporting racism, sexism and cruel oppression was entirely a disappointment. Not only was I shocked with the crudeness of some of my fellow students, but also the complete disrespect they had for those who were different than them. Value for all lives was absent.
The dean of student affairs said that while it was an unfortunate event, she couldn’t stop students from speaking their mind and expressing their freedom of speech. Everyone has mixed views of that response, but either way, the campus was torn by this event. That week, I saw students upset, angry, offended, sarcastic, ignorant and indifferent.
And now that the government is officially shut down due to this crisis with funding President Trump’s wall, people’s livelihoods are being affected. There are some government workers without work or a paycheck, and even some who are required to work without being paid.
Personally, I try not to talk politics in the work place, primarily because I hate debating. And when those conversations do come up, I try to stay neutral even though I’m sure my family, friends and coworkers, and probably some of my readers would be able to guess where I fall.
But in all honesty, in most situations, I understand both sides. With the incident on campus, I can appreciate students’ freedom of speech being honored and respected, but I can also mourn with the minorities that were not honored and respected. With this current issue of building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, I can get why conservatives would want to protect current citizens and those who have legally made their way into the country. Yet I also remember that this country was founded on immigration, and not the legal kind, but the unethical forceful removal of Native Americans and the institution of enslaving an entire people group.
Like many things, I don’t think there is one single right answer. I think the emotions and strong opinions that accompany this controversy demonstrate exactly how deeply immigration runs through the bones of our nation. Immigration is a topic that influences people’s belief systems, ideas, thoughts, actions and their entire life experiences, and issues like this one should be taken seriously and handled carefully.
An important thing to me while discussing issues that have serious implications for people’s lives is debating and disagreeing with humility and respect, and I think that’s one thing we’ve lost. No longer do Republicans and Democrats disagree and cordially respect the other’s perspective, but they shout their ideas yet cover their ears when someone from the other side starts to talk.
When talking about politics, I have heard many people quote George Washington when he said political parties would ruin this country:
“However (political parties) may become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”
But I don’t agree. Contrary to popular thought, I actually think Washington was wrong. I don’t think political parties have destroyed the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion. I think it’s our lack of kindness.
Somewhere in time, we lost the ability to argue with grace, to disagree and still be friends, to have debates that don’t end in screaming matches. Or maybe we as humans have never truly had that ability and have just slowly lost the ability to hide our frustrations. But either way, what harm would it really do to choose kindness over hatred?
I’ve experienced a few moments of kindness lately, and they’re nothing huge, but they made a difference in my day:
- One of the workers at Calhoun Coffee Company, where I visit probably too frequently, asked my name
- When I was interviewing both Jane Powers Weldon and Mignon Ballard (at separate times), they both offered me a hot cup of tea to accompany our conversations
- The always friendly Chick-fil-A workers asked how my day was
- My housemates Kaylie and Olivia cooked a delicious homemade Thai meal for our entire house and a few guests
- Some Gordon County poll managers asked about my job with the Times when I was out taking Election Day pictures
It takes more energy and effort to be angry and hate someone than it does to just simply smile at someone, even one you don’t agree with. The next time this topic comes up in your home, work place, friend group, remember that just because we might disagree with others doesn’t mean we have to lose our manners.
Be kind to someone this week, for it’s not forcing your ideas down someone’s throats that has the power to make a difference, it’s treating every human being with respect, humility and kindness – even the humans you don’t see eye to eye with.
Alexis Draut is a recent graduate of Berry College and a staff writer for the Calhoun Times.