Throughout this school year, I have found a troubling trend developing among the Grinnell student body. There is an increasing rallying around what I would deem to be ‘questionable’ on-campus issues. I call these issues questionable not because I find the ideas behind them to be problematic, but since it is literally a question whether or not they exist. Two issues in particular stand out to me: the concern over the possible discontinuation of need-blind admissions to the school, and the concern that the College would end its relationship with the Posse program.
First off: need-blind admissions. It would certainly be terrifying if a school with as much of a history of social justice as Grinnell was forced to abandon its need-blind admissions policy when doing so is completely unnecessary and discriminatory. It is true that it was something under consideration by the school’s trustees in their attempt to rein in operational costs of the school. But I’d emphasize that this option was under consideration in much of the same way that the President of the United States technically always considers the option of sending atomic tipped warheads into a country when thinking about a war. Sure it’s on the table, but it’s so unlikely to be the option taken that it’s rather absurd to take it all that seriously as a possibility. Going back through my notes and the minutes of the meeting when Joe Bagnoli came to Joint Board to talk about the possibilities being considered to cut down on costs, cutting need blind admissions was under the last and most serious options considered, Approach C, which was brought up multiple times as being the least desirable and least likely course to be taken. As an option it serve to bring perspective to how much more desirable the other plans were. The hysteria the issue inspired during the height of the debate over it was completely unwarranted in light of this. But hysteria it was.
There has also recently been a lot of talk about the future of Posse. While I can understand the fear that those invested in the program may feel to hear that it was being ‘reevaluated,’ in reality it doesn’t really seem like the program was ever in danger. President Kington was brought in to make strong changes to the school and he has started on this path by reevaluating a plethora of programs and departments around the college. In fact, Posse undergoes an audit every five years. In retrospect, and with the confirmation of another multiyear deal being signed with Posse, I’d suspect that this reevaluation was a good thing for the program; apparently after thinking abut the program more intimately than any other time save perhaps when the agreement between Posse and Grinnell was initially inked, the school has indeed decided that Posse is something it likes. This is a decision I wholeheartedly endorse. Posse brings in a plurality of students who are intelligent, engaging, thoughtful and unique to this campus.
But these two examples are worrisome because the problems people thought existed really didn’t. The brouhaha over need-blind was entirely for naught; from start to finish of the process the trustees who were making the decision about what changes to bring about to cut the school’s expenses were quite uncomfortable with the idea of eliminating need-blind admissions. Similarly the review Posse underwent seems to have been rather routine in terms of how President Kington wants to look over the different nooks and crannies of Grinnell to find things worth changing.
These problems are important for two reasons. First, we live in a world with enough problems that we do not need to create any new ones. On this campus alone there are tons of pressing issues that demand our attention. Class is completely swept under the rug, and the financial needs of many of our students are ignored and pressed into the shadows. I’ve met plenty of people, as I’m sure many of you have, who have juggled multiple jobs while working as a full time student to help support their family, or have stayed here during spring break and been reduced to eating cans of tuna for two weeks because that’s all that is available to them.
Another example: the ability of our community to encourage a responsible atmosphere for drinking and using drugs is laughable at best. Too often we hear stories of people going to the hospital multiple times and it makes one wonder why this isn’t something that we confront our friends and fellow students with. Where is the energy that got people so excited when they heard about need-blind or Posse when their friends are drinking themselves into oblivion the umpteenth week in a row? I’m not trying to say that people are ‘bad’ for trying to do good for the community when they might have thought that need-blind or Posse was getting the axe, but we do only have so much time to dedicate to things outside of our school work. When you could take a bit of your own time to find out how serious this issues might have been, it’s deflating to see so many people get on the soapbox of self-righteousness to create straw-men villains that don’t really resemble their real world counterparts when there are enough actual demons in need of being purged on campus. While it is convenient and easy to imagine the trustees as dick-head fat-cats smoking cigars lit with $100 bills while they laugh about screwing over the poor, that doesn’t really look anything like reality. The same goes for the idea that Ray K is some heartless technocrat hell-bent on ruining everything about this school. We create these problems and create a cast of easy targets to hate on because it’s easy and puts us in a world of black and white. Our real problems are actually here, they are hard, and they ask more of us than our made up ones do.
Secondly, we waste our social capital with the administration when we get up in arms over problems that don’t really exist. If we act like an ill-informed and reactionary mob then we risk being treating like one. We all take social justice issues seriously, and we wanted to be treated like serious activists when fighting for our causes. We need to be able to work with the administration to tackle problems that are troubling to us when we come across them. The way we cherry-pick and propagate these issues makes us look like fools to the administration, and we can’t afford to be thought of that way when we do need institutional support in tackling some of the serious issues which students care about and are impacted by.
I’m proud to be a part of a community filled with passionate voices and critical thinkers who are willing to stand up for what they think is right. But we need to be careful about the causes we choose. We need to do our homework on just what the story is when it comes to a causes like removing need-blind or reevaluating Posse: who’s making the decisions? Why? What are the other options? What is the precedent they are working under? These are the sorts of questions we need to ask before endorsing a cause. It is only by operating under this sort of framework that we as a community can tackle the issues that we find to be problematic in our school and the world at large.