Less labelling, more dialogue needed

Two-camp labelling has eroded the Queen’s community spirit and hampered debate over significant issues. The University must respect alternate perspectives to effect change

Constructive dialogue on campus has been undermined by unfair labelling.
Constructive dialogue on campus has been undermined by unfair labelling.

Some of the most often heard phrases are also the most misused.

Perhaps the most used phrase that I’ve heard in my time at Queen’s is the notion of the “Queen’s community.” What does it mean?

Beyond being linked to 20,000 other students, hundreds of thousands of alumni and thousands of faculty and staff, the Queen’s community is one body, united, where we treat each other with respect. At Queen’s there’s no room for bigotry, sexism, homophobia, racism or religious intolerance. We work to ensure everyone has the best opportunity to learn and succeed.

Ultimately, universities should be safe places where individuals are afforded the ability to take risks, make mistakes and experience profound intellectual growth. Free expression at a university is very important. It seems that in the last few years at Queen’s, people aren’t able to think aloud as they should on a wide range of issues and contribute to a productive dialogue in the community. There are many people in the Queen’s community who wish to contribute to positive dialogue around issues of racism, oppression, marginalization and equity. If in their attempts to tackle these issues they make a mistake in their thinking, they’re labelled as a bad person or unable to understand or contribute to these issues by various groups of unelected and unaccountable gatekeepers. These individuals who believe themselves to be morally infallible serve to propagate a culture of fear on this campus. This phenomenon has ultimately served to erode the sense of the Queen’s community. In the last five years at Queen’s many people have become afraid to discuss these extremely important and sensitive issues for fear of being attacked or unfairly labelled when providing an alternate view. Conversely, there are those who are unwilling to acknowledge these inherent and systemic problems that face our university and actively seek to discredit and invalidate the proactive work done by many students and organizations.

They too are guilty of labelling those who seek to engage in these issues as “radical” or “out of touch.” These differing views need to co-exist, but we need to facilitate the way this can happen. There has been too much labelling of those with differing opinions as member of the “left” or “right.” We need to remember we are all members of the Queen’s community and these aren’t left or right issues, but Queen’s issues. We need to be talking about the issues and not the individual or their political ideologies.

It’s not useful for the students who have actually experienced racism or oppression on this campus when we get tangled up in labelling others and make personal attacks on those with differing opinions. There’s no quicker way to shut down dialogue. I also acknowledge that for many, their activism is based on their lived experiences and it’s very hard to tell someone how they should feel and react to differences of opinion, but ultimately we need to work together and be open.

It’s unfortunate that on this campus being conservative is equivalent to not understanding identity politics and the opposite perspective is part of a crazy leftist fringe. No one group has the high ground or moral authority.

Where the AMS and student government can step up is delivering essential services, programming, events and advocacy for students. It’s important that we provide avenues for students to comment on these issues. The student government, which truly cares for the Queen’s community, cannot stand idly by when any student is vilified or made to feel inferior to others because of a mistake on their part. We pride ourselves on being restorative in our thinking, not punitive. We don’t need to sully Queen’s name in meeting these challenges. We need to be able to target specific issues without blanketing the whole institution. People want to feel good about this place and genuinely help Queen’s to be the best it can be. How we treat those in our family should be the same as how we treat people here if we truly wish to live in a campus community. The things that guide us—respect, sensitivity, civility and empathetic understanding—need to guide our discussions here. If you really believe anything within Queen’s is wrong or misguided, there are ways to go about effecting change that don’t fill people with venom and contempt. It’s disconcerting when we see people talking past one another on these issues. Where this occurs, Queen’s as a community has lost its way. We need to restore some of the Queen’s spirit of generosity towards ourselves in how we talk to one another.

Over the last five years I have been grateful for the exposure to different frames of thought. I have recognized some things in myself that I want to change. One thing I haven’t changed is my conviction that our community is infused by loyalty, respect, a willingness to genuinely listen to others and have a stake in their welfare. I think we need a little more of this on campus.

Nevertheless, I loved this university when I first arrived here five years ago and I leave it feeling the same way.
Michael Ceci, ArtSci ’09, is the AMS President and CEO.

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