“The Rise and Fall of Common Decency”

One of the recent editions of the City Pages had a cover story (the article can be found here) regarding the University of Minnesota-Morris’ most infamous alumnus, Joseph Basel. While our times at the University share only the slightest overlap (2008/9), it is not an understatement to say that his short time here has changed the political culture of the campus – while already several years old, the “Kill All White Men” posters still remain at the forefront of campus memory when addressing cultural and racial tolerance.

While the article addresses the Ben Wetmore event in November 2009, which immediately followed the spray-chalked fetuses across campus, I feel as though its interview with UMM student Jeremy Davis is a misrepresentation of what I had seen.[1] Attending just to hear an alternative perspective to my own, the moment I stepped in the doorway several minutes late I was shocked. As individuals mocked every word the man said, screaming criticisms that teetered between ideological conflict and libel, I was disappointed in what I saw. Although there were several who raised their hand, including myself, asking the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS; it was its leaders not the Morris Student DFL behind the ruckus) to not stoop to the man’s level of obnoxiousness, all pleas for courtesy were answered with cries of “He does it, so why shouldn’t we?”

We can demean the teabaggers for their actions, but is there not a moral obligation for us to guarantee that we do not separate the “words we speak from the lives we live?” The “political divisiveness” that Davis portrays as “impressive” to produce in a “generally cool place for people to have different political views” is neither conservative nor liberal specific and is hypocritical when one’s means contradict one’s desired ends: open and respectful political discourse.

On Tuesday, March 23, the same pro-life group that brought Wetmore to the campus brought Rebecca Kiessling, a pro-life speaker who tells the story of her life as someone conceived in rape, and even though there were no disruptions or protest (even though leadership from the Morris Student DFL were present) the fact that both a representative from the Office of Student Activities and a Campus Policeman were present is testament enough to the political culture that can be bred from aggressive partisanship. If we are to move forward as a campus, we need to learn from those who preceded us and put the shock activism behind us in favor of a more postpartisan environment that favors communication and cooperation over confrontation and controversy.

[1] Even though I will now be condemning the actions of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), I have no better feelings for the organization that brought Wetmore to campus. I don’t intend to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but the night of fetus chalking on campus, which immediately preceded Wetmore’s visit, happened the very same night every single campus-approved poster advertising Campus Camp Wellstone was torn down. Coincidence?

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