We can learn through our differences

Jordan Finkelstein | Class of 2016

These past few weeks have seen numerous examples of student activism on university campuses around the country, including universities very close to our own. The events at the University of Missouri, Claremont McKenna College and Yale University remind us all of the importance of our college education, more so due to the exposure to differing identities and viewpoints, than anything that can be learned in the classroom.

To create the world-class education that Washington University is known for, we need to work on fostering a community where the fact that our population is composed of individuals with differing identities, points of view and experiences is celebrated and cherished, rather than stifled and seen as a point of contention.

There is no place on our campus, or any campus for that matter, for students who choose to share their views in violent, disrespectful or derogatory ways. Anonymous forums like Yik Yak do little to foster this type of community when discriminatory posts are made. People need to own up to their views and engage with students of similar and, perhaps more importantly, different backgrounds in environments that allow for the respectful exchange of ideas, without infringing on anyone’s freedom of expression.

We are entering an era where people are more connected than ever before through social media and other forms of technology, but we need to use those tools to connect in ways that allow for personal and educational growth. We are all entitled to voice our opinions, and with that comes the obligation of listening to those opinions of our peers.

A college campus is a unique place, somewhere between a controlled environment and the “real world.” In the real world, there are no administrators to step in when offensive things are said and done, and there isn’t nearly the same level of resources devoted to education around diversity and inclusion. We need to take advantage of the years we have on this campus to teach about respect for one another, because if you teach about respect, then the ability to develop empathy and a desire to learn from other’s identities and experiences will follow you past your time at college.

This culture of respect needs to be ingrained in students’ minds from the very beginning. Too often, it seems like in the promotion of diversity and inclusion all we do is “showcase” different identities. We need to take it one step further and actually create a broader, more general culture of respect that prepares students to be accepting of each other or a culture that at least prepares students to agree to disagree. While the University can factor this into programming, we as students need to do our part as well and bear this in mind as we complete our college years.

Learning happens when we engage with new ideas and opinions, and we need to create an environment where that engagement happens with the utmost dignity and regard for one another. Together, we as students—each with our own cherished differences—need to stay committed to ensuring our campus is one that cultivates learning around our differing backgrounds and views because without that, what are we really doing to prepare ourselves for what lies outside the confines of Wash. U.?

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