Monday, October 18, 2010

Unity through Understanding

Due to recent incidents of intolerance on and off campus Loyola has started a series of talks that address the topic of discrimination. To start the program for the year seven speakers were asked to share their experiences of injustice. While almost all were from different backgrounds all have been involved in a bias incident. The incidents had been sparked by a variety of reasons including race, disability, sexual orientation, and religion. The speakers had been affected negatively by their experiences and came to discuss what happened in the hopes that such bigotry might be eliminated. They discussed the topic by explaining their personal experience and emphasizing their feelings throughout to connect the crowd emotionally to the general theme. This method of introducing the topic forced those in the audience to reflect on their personal experiences and whether they themselves had participated in a biased incident. The talk on October 11th titled “There’s More to Me Than You See” was able to raise awareness on campus for diversity and intolerance by declaring outright the feelings of those who find themselves in a marginal section of society and by asking each student present whether they have acted in a manner that might have hurt others.

While the speakers all came from different patterns of discrimination they all suffered under similar pressure. By speaking about how they felt they were able to show the audience a different side of intolerance and how small comments on a daily basis can form walls between individuals and society. The second speaker to ascend to the podium sighted daily abuse due to his blindness from his peers on the swim team, a situation that only worsened when he attempted to address it head-on. For the fifth speaker, daily snide reminders from her roommates to take medication for her bipolar disorder finally became too much for her to handle. The sixth speaker suffered frequent malicious comments about his working-class background from his peers that made him feel secluded on more than one occasion. The idea of small comments snowballing into serious issues was directed at each audience member so that they may reflect on what they have done in the past. Through this process each listener was able to revaluate how they interact with others as they now found that small, everyday comments do make a difference. The speakers provided for greater unity at Loyola by enlightening the students to the abuse that happens out in the open but is often overlooked.

The attacks on each of the speakers connect to the untitled poem by Peter Meinke because both address abuse of the individual. Similarly to those addressing the audience, Meinke’s poem discusses how his frequent negative comments to his son are unintentional but still just as destructive as if they were done purposefully. The poem, which is dedicated to the author’s son, explains that the child was damaged “because when I needed to strike you were there to be hurt” (lines 11-12). Similarly, it is easy to believe that most bias incidents occur not out of prejudice against and hatred for a class of individuals but rather because the offender is simply in need of some form of release. Rather than be able to release such rage through a proper channel, the offender takes their anger out on nearby innocent targets. Part of the reason for the series of discussions on unity is that well-meaning people are acting out of line with common mistakes. While those performing the abuse may believe they are doing so in a bantering manner those on the receiving end may find such talk offensive. Both the speakers and Meinke agree that common, unintentional mistakes can lead to greater problems when they are reinforced daily.

The unity series is meant to foster greater understanding on campus for minority groups in society. The speakers from the event “There’s More to Me Than You See” stressed how simple, everyday comments could undermine the feeling of unity in a community in a manner similar to Meinke’s poem. It is these simple, supposedly meaningless actions that are perpetrated on a daily basis that undermine the unity of a community and force individuals to be outsiders. The event raised awareness of this problem and posed a time for Loyola students to reflect on their previous choices. By assembling this meeting the organizers of the event contributed to a united Loyola that will act justly in consideration of other in the future.

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