Raising awareness about raising awareness

There are three types of students seen on campus. The first are those who were actually offended that Gustavus was ranked as one of the most sober schools in the country. The second are Gusties that just go through the motions of getting offended, and finally there are the true Gusties, the ones on billboards and magazines, the ones who sign up for a million groups and actually participate in all of them. For today’s discussion, I’d like to focus on the last as it can be considered the stereotype of the perfect Gustie.

Now this particular Gustie is a noble creature: a student who really cares about a number of issues. Raising awareness on social, political and economic issues has become the standard for many of us. I’m not saying this is a problem in itself, but I am saying the time has come to raise some awareness about the raising of awareness.

The past week has shown three great examples of the problems that awareness-raising can cause on this campus.

Let’s start with one that’s been in the news recently: KONY 2012. As many Gusties know, the second push from the people at Invisible Children has drawn fierce controversy, which culminated in the organization’s leader, Jason Russell, publicly masturbating in broad daylight on the streets of my beloved San Diego.

So what does this have to do with Gustavus? Two weeks ago, when the KONY campaign organized its campaign to cover businesses, universities and shopping malls across the country with KONY 2012 flyers, some Gusties decided it would be to swell to join in. The problem with this type of awareness is that it is supporting a group that uses 70 percent of its donations on employee compensation and is not doing what it needs to help Uganda now that Kony has finally started to back off.

But so what? A couple of kids didn’t do their research. The problem is that it doesn’t end there. Next comes TOMS shoes, and for the life of me, I cannot figure out why Gusties are still participating in this event. First of all, TOMS charges 36 dollars for the two sets of shoes. Now I know those shoes must be awfully expensive to make, but even 36 dollars can seem steep for most do-gooders. Also, shoes are damn near the least of the concerns for the people they are supposed to help.

Think about it this way: if you were starving and far below the poverty line, would a new pair of shoes really help you out that much? Lastly, these moral do-gooders are hurting the economy of an already damaged infrastructure by taking money out of the hands of the shoemakers there and instead giving it to an American company.

Alas, it does not end there. Suicide Awareness Week, which was last week, was meant to teach the student body about how damaging suicide is to our community. It is truly damaging to know someone who either has committed suicide, attempted suicide or even thought about suicide. The awareness brought up by these groups was probably beneficial to many Gusties.

But what exactly happened? Is an all yellow Dive dance really supposed to help? How exactly are thousands of personally detached and emotionally void Post-it notes spread across the Campus Center supposed to make people who are actually struggling with suicide feel better? Like I said, for non-suicidal people or for those who have not had to experience these things firsthand, the week was probably a resounding success. But I find it laughable that we choose to dance depression away instead of trying more direct means.

We have to remember who exactly we are trying to do good for. You might feel good about yourself for making shoes or for talking about Kony, but if we want to eradicate real problems we have to look past what it means to us and instead to what it means to the people we are doing it for. It is time we put down our presumed knowledge that as Americans we know what is best for the rest of the world, and we need to actually start to listen to what people need.

In the film Bowling for Columbine by Michael Moore, when asked about what he would say to the shooters of the tragedy, Marilyn Manson answered, “I wouldn’t say a single word to them. I would listen to what they have to say, and that’s what no one did.”

I submit that we start anew. We need to put aside what we want to do and what we think is best, and we need to begin to focus our efforts on listening, collaboration and deciphering what exactly are the effects of our actions.