So, in the midst of completing my final post in a mini-series, another topic of importance came up, this one a little closer to home. Over the last couple of days, there has erupted in my sleepy little college town of Waukesha a huge controversy over a certain Wall of Prejudice. But what started out as a symbolic event in keeping with a fraternity’s philanthropy has turned into a media frenzy.
The recently-formed Pi Lambda Phi fraternity at Carroll sponsored a Wall of Prejudice this past week. As their core goal is the Elimination of Prejudice, this event was to highlight the fact that prejudice exists. Furthermore, this was an opportunity for those who have experienced prejudice to have an anonymous forum to express the terms they have been called. For some of them, I’m sure it gave them some form of relief, however brief. According to Carroll’s Dean of Students Theresa Barry, “The organization wants to help raise awareness about all the prejudice that exists in society today. Then on Friday, between 3:00 and 5:00 in the afternoon, students or community members or whomever will have the opportunity to come and actually tear down that wall.” I feel Barry adequately stated what the purpose was for this wall, and to know that the Carroll administration back this endeavor was heartening.
So what is the problem?
The media got a hold of the story. Fox News 6 and 620WTMJ both published articles and podcasts relating this story. And many of us know that the media is good at stirring up trouble. Charlie Sykes, a conservative talk show host for 620WTMJ, posted a picture of the wall to his Facebook page. This sparked a huge discussion between area community members, Carroll students, and other people. Admittedly I participated in this debate and was appalled at the complete and utter lack of courtesy in most of the comments. As a history major, I have learned to be objective in debate, to support my opinions where necessary, and be willing to entertain other points of view. Therefore, when more educated adults than myself fell into the fallacies of blaming everyone but themselves and not even hearing another point, it caused me to pause and think.
But why are people concerned in the first place? Here’s why:
1. There are some extremely vulgar words on the wall.
2. The wall was placed in sight of an elementary school and the surrounding community.
Many people are concerned about the exposure of such words to young, impressionable children. On one hand, I firmly agree with their concerns. But conversely, children don’t grow up in the halcyon days of blissful ignorance anymore. In a world dominated by pop culture and trashy television shows focusing on appearance and stereotypes, many children are already exposed to such language and likewise on a daily basis. That, and there’s no controlling what is being said at school when teachers aren’t around. Let this be a teaching moment if the conversation comes up. As my fellow Carroll classmate and history major Stacy Jantz put it,
“The purpose of the wall is to give people something to talk about. Prejudice cannot be overcome in silence. You cannot simply clip a ribbon onto your backpack and say that you support the elimination of prejudice unless you are truly willing to face the harsh words that are thrown at victims every day.” (used with permission, view her wonderful blog post here).
What I fear is happening in the extremely conservative region of Waukesha is that many people want to sweep this incident under the rug. Why should we? Why should the Carroll administration have to constantly address this issue when they sanctioned this in the first place? They obviously would not given the Pi Lams the green light if they didn’t agree with their intent. The Carroll community has been at odds with the surrounding community for as long as I’ve been here (does anyone remember the crosswalk debate?…read my account of that here), and this just exemplifies the lack of support we often have. Carroll does wonderful things for the community; why don’t we always focus on that rather than the negative?
In listening to Charlie Syke’s recent podcast on the debate, I was flattered to know that he mentioned several comments on air that I had made on his Facebook post. Although he did not necessarily tear my comments apart (I’ll give him that), he treated them in an off-handed manner. I asked the rhetorical questions of “what are people most offended by: the intent, the content, or the placement” as well as “if there were no curse words on the wall, would you be less offended?”. He condescendingly answered that it should have been obvious that the answers would have been yes to all of the above. Now, Sykes’ treatment of my own opinions bothered me. Yes he agreed with me that the Pi Lams should not be held responsible, but he also completely disregarded my intent in asking these questions. It seems he made it a point to instruct me in the absurdity of my questions rather than discussing them at length. But, what could one expect from the type of audience who clearly only wants to hear the sound of their own voices?
What infuriated me further was that he referred to Dr. Barry and the Carroll administrators as “mush-headed” and that their job in this school was “to teach us how to think”. Really? I came to Carroll to be spoon-fed my own opinions rather than exploring and developing my own ways of thinking? Therefore, my own opinions here represent those of the University as a whole? Not. At. All. As I’ve stated before in my disclaimer, all opinions here are my own and do not reflect any other entity, my soon-to-be-alma mater included. That the Carroll administration has defended their decision time and again has given me faith for the future of my university.
My own, self-discovered, not-spoon-fed opinion on the wall? As I’ve stated many times before, I support the Pi Lams in this. I am not a member of Greek life, but I’m fortunate to know a few of them. I’m proud to say I’m friends with them and that they are all outstanding men who deserve all the recognition they can get for standing up for their philanthropy. Also, I think this is the type of conversation that should happen early on. Maybe this wasn’t the best way to expose it, but, at the same time, what’s a better solution? We don’t like to have these conversations because they make us feel uncomfortable. But I would rather it happen sooner than later. But as I mentioned in a comment, “Actions may speak louder than words, but actions can often follow those same words.” So let those words begin with the wall.
If you disagree with anything I have said, that is fine. You are entitled to your own opinions. I won’t judge you any less for it. And that is not a mark on my character so much as a mark for common human decency. I’m sick of the mudslinging (that is a term I’ve been using a lot lately), political and otherwise, that has been going on over the last couple of days. This one incident is marring people’s judgment of Carroll without getting all of the facts. Well, to make sure people can get the facts straight, here is an album done by my friend Ashley with all of the information, links, and pictures you could ever want (used with permission).
In closing, the Pi Lam’s Wall of Prejudice caused another wall of prejudice to be built, but not by their choosing. Rather, it is the conservative political community and those who refuse to see beyond their own blinders who are now forwarding their own form of prejudice against the Carroll University institution, its administration, its faculty, and its students. I stand by my university, the administration, and all that Carroll stands for. And if that makes me a mush-headed liberal, in Sykesian terms, then so be it.
Oh, and Mr. Sykes, there is a difference between tolerance and prejudice…
And one last post script, that museum post is going up tomorrow, no ifs, ands, or buts about it…!