I wrote this reflection in the same fashion I’ve written a generous chunk of my articles for this publication: two hours before the deadline, fueled by Adderall and will-power. This time I’m reflecting on my college experience. Well folks, I’m sitting in the academic electric chair and Andrew Cuomo’s got his manicured hand on the goddamn lever. I’m screwed, fried, f*cked. If Trump wants to pardon Joe Exotic for calling a hit on Carole Baskin, he can surely find a spot in his heart for a poor sap like me. Can’t the great State of New York give me a second chance at my senior spring semester? Christ, I am frustrated.
Most reflections send love to staff and mentors. But circumstances are different, and so is this column. I’ve self-censored for social survival for far too long. If any of you even care enough to read this, you will know my true, unfiltered, sentiments and wishes for the SUNY New Paltz community.
To the reader: I just want you to remember that I love you, okay?
There’s a severe drought in civility and reason in our classrooms. Our discourse is doomed by an ever-widening political rift that is tearing this country apart. A person’s political and social beliefs become a prison that breeds hatred and seclusion. To anyone who needs to hear this: being a “devil’s advocate” is often a mask white people wear to say racist shit in class. I’ve worn it and I’m ashamed of it. I promise my intentions were pure. I’ve tried to pose ideas that I did not necessarily agree with, so I would know how to refute them when I encounter those poisonous ideas myself. But the fact that I cannot comprehend discrimination, unless a person of color explains it to me, is absurd. I’m ashamed that it took 18 years of my life to leave my secluded upper-middle class(?) box and only begin to understand the power I’ve been given as a white, straight(ish), Christian-raised cisgendered man. I have the privilege to be a self-proclaimed nihilist because I can honestly live happier pretending nothing matters.
But I am beyond thankful for those who were patient and saw through my ignorance, and found a scared and confused suburbanite. I’ve learned and grown so much from time in class and with journalism and I hope to learn more. But it feels, when I left home, the wool was violently ripped from in front of my eyes and replaced with salt and razor blades. I was angry and scared by the feeling that my idea of the world was severely skewed. Pardon the cliche white-guy “woe-is-me” routine, but I don’t think you have the right to shut down anyone’s point of view because of their identity. Perceptions of right and wrong are contorted by our own histories and clash when met with opposition. Conflict is something all Americans understand. We’re a country born and bred on violence.
“Give me liberty or give me death!”
That’s a bold statement. But it’s why I’m not surprised by the carnage, from school shootings to violent protests, that have become commonplace in nightly TV news segments. We’re numb to it. It’s no surprise that this culture has bled into class discussions and on the streets.
The ugliest display of local activism, from both sides, occurred during the “Flag Parade” of 2018. A proposed American flag mural on the side of La Bella’s Pizzeria, a private business, catalyzed an uproar in the New Paltz Facebook community. In response, flag supporters performed an aggressive display of patriotism: filling the streets with roaring grumbles of military jeeps, motorcycles and bright “freedom flags” flapping in the wind. In response, students and left-leaning community members arrived to protest the parade. Greatly outnumbered, the students stood in defiance, cursing the plague of imperialism that America embodies.
Then it got ugly. Some of the flag supporters screamed homophobic slurs at the students, while students accused their enemies’ children of being “baby Nazis.” The turmoil continued online, with hateful rhetoric tossed back and forth. It got so bad that the administrators of the community Facebook page had to archive the group to extinguish the flames. They were so fed up with the fighting, it seemed better not to speak at all.
I fear the same sickness is seeping into the way America’s youth deals with one another.
No matter your position on the political spectrum, I think that no one feels heard. Problem solving and reasoning have been reduced to shouting competitions, where the loudest proponent wins. A coworker from my Ireland internship called our country “the great American experiment.” We stuffed an array of races, religions, ethnicities and nationalities (although not always consensually) in one flat slab of soil and idealistically dreamed of a “united people.” That experiment has failed miserably. Whether we burn in the flames of chaos COVID-19 has fueled, or rise from the ashes will depend entirely on our ability to unite. And that can only happen if we harbor empathy and compassion for everyone we meet. We cannot begin reworking archaic ideologies until we understand the source. Whether we fall like Rome or perservere depends entirely on our ability to communicate with each other. But that tale has yet to be told.
To the current and future students of colleges across the country: keep the classroom sacred. They are supposed to be sanctuaries of order and intellect, but they’ve become verbal warzones. If a peer expresses an idea that hurts you, ask them why they feel that way. Where was this idea imparted? Why do you hold it so dearly? What are you unable to see? I sincerely believe that patience is the paste that will begin to mend our fragmented nation. Godspeed and good luck New Paltz. I’ll see you on the other side.