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The Summit's Not It - December 2018

posted Dec 17, 2018, 1:20 PM by RSO The Fenwick Review   [ updated Dec 17, 2018, 1:22 PM ]

by Marisa George ’21 and Andrew Buck ‘22

Well-intentioned and confused. What else is there to say about November 16th’s  ENGAGE Summit?

Late in October, the Holy Cross community received various emails regarding a hate crime on campus. Public Safety explained: “...a Holy Cross student reported an aggravated assault & battery motivated by bias (sexual orientation) that occurred on campus between Clark Hall and Brooks-Mulledy Hall on October 27 between 2:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m. The incident has been reported to DPS.” Responses from Dean Murray, President Boroughs, and other officials on campus condemned and expressed grief over the tragic event.

In response, a petition, which began in an English class, was dispersed to all members of the Holy Cross community (student, faculty, and alumni alike) by groups such as Pride, individual members of the faculty, staff, and student body, and the English Department itself. The petition called to “...cancel classes, athletics, and all extra-curricular events for a day. Or several days. Or a week. In place of these we would hold teach-ins, vigils, (and) community conversations.” Professor Leah Cohen of the English Department said that she would deliver the petition to Father Boroughs on November 8th, having garnered roughly 1000 signatures from faculty, staff, alumni, and students. The next day, November 9th, Father Boroughs sent out an email inviting the Holy Cross community to the ENGAGE Summit, which would  “ our collective attention to a conversation and exploration of our culture at Holy Cross and the steps we need to take to build a community that supports and celebrates all its members.” He further expounded that “This will be an important first step, but not the only step, in addressing issues of respect and inclusion on our campus.” The conclusion was to cancel classes and extracurriculars on the afternoon of Friday the 16th, then hold the Summit in their place.

The Summit’s sessions viewed inclusion (otherwise known, in most cases, as tolerance) and respect as complete, unquestionable agreement with and affirmation of another group, regardless of ideology. We, however, believe that tolerance does not necessitate agreement; rather, it entails a sort of unconditional respect for another person, regardless of his ideas. Every person has equal dignity, and we should act in a way that befits it. When you notice our encouragement of tolerance and respect later in this article, please note that we disassociate ourselves with the Summit’s definitions.

Students and faculty were encouraged to conceive of and facilitate various sessions addressing concerns with tolerance and respect within the community. Planning was limited, with merely a week to organize events. While the initial petition focused on the hate crime that occurred on campus, the untimeliness and lack of clear information as to its purpose threw the whole Summit into a bewildering muddle. When the list of events was distributed via email, confusion as to their variety grew: the first two main “sessions,” which each lasted for an hour, had about twenty optional events each. Each event lasted for the full hour. Talks would be held concerning women’s issues, Title IX, race, spirituality, international students, masculinity, etc. The third (and final) Summit session in Kimball was to tie together and address all these issues as the entire Holy Cross community. Due to that sheer quantity, questions started buzzing about what exactly the Summit was for. Many thought it was a reaction to the LGBT assault. Some, however, held it was also in response to the culture of sexual assault on campus or even in reaction to the Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh.

However, when too many issues are addressed simultaneously, they must be watered down in order to assure that each receives equal consideration. In the attempt to solve every pressing issue, no issue receives the community’s undivided attention. The result is further division, which forces individuals to choose and prioritize certain issues based on their personal grievances. Such was the case with the Summit. With such a great diversity and quantity of events, the students who attended chose whichever ones appealed to them most personally. The profusion of topics led to fewer good ideas focused on a single campus-wide issue (such as sexual violence or racial discrimination, for example), and left the community with confused concepts of “progress.” As expressed by Father Boroughs, the Summit was to be the first step towards progress. Due to the conflation of issues, however, we students have no clue where this next step should or will go. (In fact, in over a week, there has been no follow-up email from the College’s administration.)

If we are to progress as a community, we, as students, alumni, faculty, and staff, must work together and strive for that “next step” without any further division. Efforts such as the Summit, however, create three separate communities: the involved, the indifferent, and the dissenters. The involved members have supported the cause since the beginning. They believed that an event such as the ENGAGE Summit is the correct response to any relevant issue. Because of their concerns, the involved were the most educated before the Summit and the most active during. The indifferent, on the other hand, had no bias either way. They were encouraged to shirk their disinterest and become advocates for the involved, so although they had no strong desire to participate, some attended, while some did not. Finally, the dissenters can be divided into two subgroups: those who believe issues shouldn’t be handled in the manner they were, and those whom the Summit was meant to address. The latter group includes, for the most part, assaulters — whether that be on sexual or physical grounds, such as whoever instigated the “aggravated assault & battery motivated by bias.”

The dissenters, regardless of the aforementioned subgroups, were expected to change sides, realize the “error of their ways,” and convert. They were not excluded, per se, but why would someone who disagrees with the Summit’s ideals even bother to attend at all? While the event claimed to center around open discussion, it appeared more like an opportunity for the involved to vent and strengthen the beliefs they already had. You can’t expect that spewing ideals at someone who disagrees with you will magically cause him to change his ways. To teach someone to love, you must love him. To prompt someone to become respectful and tolerant, he must see that we believe and support respect and tolerance. We must all act as guides, not lecturers. The issue of guidance furthers the problems with the Summit’s multiplicity of events. We cannot guide, much less expect the dissenters to follow, through a maze of topics. Simple, focused efforts of love and guidance are the only way to promote tolerance and respect.

This is why we two writers are dissenters of the Summit — part of the subgroup that believes issues should have been handled in a different manner, but dissenters nonetheless. Although we acknowledge the Summit’s good intentions, we do not believe this is the first step, by any means, to bettering our community. We are not denying the presence of any issues. However, we are denying the Summit’s effectiveness. Further, the Summit, as a formulaic “Tolerance 101,” sent down by the administration and its ideological cronies, interferes with the already natural and (mostly) tolerant community we have on campus. Improvement must come, willingly and enthusiastically, from individuals able to properly guide the outliers towards tolerance and respect.

The Summit’s efforts engaged 1200-1500 members of the community, according to the SGA Instagram, which is an underwhelming percentage when considering all the student body, faculty, staff, and alumni. Thus, it does indeed reflect the exclusion of those who needed it most. Of these participants, how many were coerced by extra-credit or mandatory attendance from professors? How many were able to actually learn and develop as members of the community? How many were the dissenters whose disrespect must be addressed?

We don’t believe in hate. We don’t condone violence. We support tolerance. We support respect. But we cannot support the Summit. We believe action must be taken to confront these issues by focused, individual guidance, not a plethora of “talks.” Instead, it is our responsibility as guides to spread love and tolerance, respect individuals, and better the world around us.