There is a public secret at Gustavus. It is a largely unspoken name. It is a name that can evoke intense emotion, debate, discussion, political discourse and briefly divide the closest of friends. It is unknown to the first-years, and perhaps the sophomores, but I would be willing to bet that there isn’t a junior or senior who wouldn’t immediately recognize the name. I’m not sure there is a faculty member or administrator who worked at Gustavus for more than a year who doesn’t know his name. He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named:
This year is, by all standards, tame and calm. In my four years at Gustavus, I can only think of one other time that the campus has been this quiet, and it was this time, two years ago, when Phil studied abroad. Now that he has graduated, it seems that the campus has quieted down, settled in to the much more tolerable pattern of agreeing with each other … or at least not talking about disagreements we have.
Perception is reality, here at Gustavus. Gustavus is perceived as exceptionally liberal, and thus the liberal voice on campus becomes the narrative of the campus. The conservative voice which perceives itself as the minority on campus, stays silent. There is not even a counter-narrative to the overwhelming liberal opinion on campus.
Do we miss Phil yet?
This is not to say that I accept emotionally charged, controversial and overwhelmingly negative strategies. Gustavus is a much less tense and, frankly, angry place without such tactics on campus. But with the passing of these strategies, we have also lost what little genuine dialogue between opposing sides that existed on campus. There is no hero of conservatism on campus, no opposing viewpoint to create a healthy debate. What exists now is an overwhelming tale of a single viewpoint.
However, in recent weeks, people have made it clear that they do not approve of this message, this narrative, even if there is no clear way to change it. Three Gusties have written two letters to the Weekly in response: Devon Bealke, Ethan Degner and Josh Fredrickson. Devon, who I do not know personally, sees this happening in the Weekly. While I find it generally amusing, considering that Ethan, columnist and editor, and I would not label ourselves as liberal by any means (sidenote: I’m not very liberal, I’m just gay), he is absolutely correct in saying that the conversation on campus is increasingly more liberal.
The letter from Ethan Degner and Josh Fredrickson similarly addressed this concern. They also provide some historical context: this is a problem that the Gustavus community has struggled with for some time. Honest, open dialogue does not seem to happen within the greater Gustavus community unless a large issue brings people together.
This is not to say that it does not happen at all, however. The classroom setting lends itself well to discussion. Following some events of the 2010 fall, there was an open forum attended by around 100 members of the Gustavus community where true discourse happened, facilitated by the Dean of Students office and our wonderful faculty.
But these discussions are reactionary, not the norm. They exist, but only within specific contexts. They are great for that purpose, but they are not sufficient to the overall needs of campus.
At the core of it all, the problem remains that often one side of the debate is left without a champion to carry its team. And until the conservative voice steps up, Gustavus will continue to be terrible at discourse.