Glitter “Activism”: Is UPS a liberal, liberal arts school?

If you are one of the many who don’t pay too much attention to primary politics, you probably didn’t hear that Rick Santorum (former Sen-PA) visited downtown Tacoma in a campaign stop last weekend. A group of Occupy protestors interrupted a large portion of his speech with their  own chanting, and at the end Santorum was hit with a “glitter-bomb.” The reason I’m writing this is that the “glitter-bomber” was a UPS student that was arrested for the action, though most of the national coverage of the incident assumed that it was simply another one of the Occupy protestors. Even Jon Stewart got in on the commentary.

Jon Stewart wasn't a fan...

In our age of social media and instantaneous news, this incident immediately blew up on student Facebook pages. An outpouring of support came in favor of the student for the activism, and was followed by a frontpage news article in The Trail and a Hey You (for those not familiar with The Trail, “Hey You’s” are anonymous one-liner submissions that are published each week). The public support from the student body for the Logger glitter-bomber was seemingly unanimous; I do not recall a single admonition at any point during the week.

I’m not writing this as a direct criticism of the student who chose to do this, and this is not meant to lean one way or the other politically. Personally, I don’t find myself in much agreement with Santorum’s policies, and find his message of intolerance (which is much more tolerant nine years after his infamous 2003 quote, it should be noted) to be unworthy of the office of the President. And though I believe that actions such as glitter-bombs prevent the kind of empathetic, genuine discussion and debate in politics, this post is not about my opinions on the actual incident (though I concur wholeheartedly with Jon Stewart).

Rather, this incident captured something about our school that has been troubling me for the last year: I know we are a liberal arts school, but are we becoming a liberal liberal arts school?

Please allow me to rephrase that in a slightly-less provocative way: Are conservative opinions and viewpoints at Puget Sound welcomed? Is this campus becoming, or has it already become, a place only for those of a liberal bend, along with those too apathetic towards political issues to care? My first inclination is to answer no, and even after giving this much thought I still believe that to be the answer. We definitely have more liberal students (typical of colleges across the country) than conservative ones, but by no means are conservative viewpoints absent from Puget Sound.

Anonymous One-Liners in the student newspaper

However, I have sat in classes of twenty where there is only one conservative voice in the room that gets drowned out by the condescending majority. I read publications like The Trail, Crosscurrents (and I anticipate reading more in Wetlands, the new gender and sexuality publication) and only see one viewpoint. I know that multiple Hey-You’s were submitted to The Trail criticizing the glitter-bombing of Santorum; none were published. I see chalkings on our sidewalks of penises and posters on campus with the word c***, and students protest loudly when these are removed.

Yet, in my time here, we have never had a lecture advocating anti-abortion, lowering taxes on the wealthy, civil unions as preferable to gay marriages, why Obama is a socialist, etc. (I disagree with all these stances, in case you were wondering). We don’t have student groups representing any prominent conservative issue outside of particular religious faiths, and I can only imagine the outrage that would take place if someone wrote something like “pro-choice=pro-murder” on one of our sidewalks.

I have no qualms about liberal, progressive viewpoints, since I almost always end up agreeing with them. I also recognize that there is a difference between a conservative viewpoint and an intolerant one; the latter has no place on this campus.

But if I were a prospective student (usually on campus for only a day) with a conservative viewpoint, I can imagine finding myself feeling as if Puget Sound wouldn’t welcome me. If I looked at who typically came to campus to speak, at what the average UPS student said on social media or in a conversation with a friend, or at some of our student publications, I most likely wouldn’t see my viewpoint represented. And with a host of other options to choose for a college experience, why would I risk a school like Puget Sound over others, especially if I thought I would be disrespected because of my beliefs?

Not just a lighthouse, in case you were wondering.

I hope this isn’t the case, because I believe with great conviction that intellectual discussions result in societal progress only when numerous viewpoints are sitting at the table and actively engaging with one another. You do not have to agree with someone’s beliefs in order to engage with them. As Leonard Pitts said when he came to campus last year, we are in an increasingly-polarized society that refuses to recognize alternative viewpoints. Not only do we have a (growing) budget deficit; we have an empathy deficit as well.

The glitter-bombing and the student body’s reaction to it are not holistic measures of our campus, but I believe they might be indicative of an increasingly-liberal campus, one that offers less and less alternative viewpoints each year. While perhaps a liberal solidarity is comforting to some, I believe that, if we are becoming more and more of a liberal liberal arts school, we are handicapping ourselves and preventing the kind of experience that would prepare us to go out into the world and make a real impact. We ought to do a better job showcasing the diverse viewpoints we have on campus so that we can continue to have them in the years to come.

Some will agree with the glitter-bombing, and some won’t. Yet for some reason, at least at Puget Sound, there only seems to be one side talking loudly enough about it to be heard. I really doubt Jon Stewart and I are the only ones who disagree.

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