Wherein is discussed an idea of separate but stupid and a plea for intelligent tolerance.
Disclaimer – What follows was written in the aftermath of anger mitigated by a long walk. It contains elements that some will find ridiculous. It involves a certain amount of parody and politics. I won’t do this often. You have been warned. If you are not interested, I will not be offended, and will happily direct you to the most recent posts at Casting Shadows or KORpg by way of apology – they are both fine blogs that should give you your daily dose of geek.
Years ago I was closely affiliated with a fantasy, science fiction, and gaming club at a university. This club, at the time, had a very gaming focused membership and so club activities were often gaming focused. As time went on, a group of students who were more interested in Anime broke off/formed their own Anime club at the university. These two groups were not closely related but they did have overlap in membership, overlap in officers, and occasional overlap in activities. For example, there was a period of a few years when the anime club ran the programming for the anime room at the gaming club’s convention.
I am, for the largest part, not an anime fan. I find the majority of it nigh incomprehensible and only occasionally find something of interest. But the anime club did their thing, we did our thing, and the members whose interests ran to both got the best of both worlds by having both groups on campus.
But here’s the thing. We know that for many geeks their geek-choices are practically a religion-substitute. Witness the fervor and zealotry of the D&D edition wars, not quite wrapped up even with the looming demise of 4E. Witness the coining of the phrase “impotent nerd rage.” Witness the reason I won’t actually spend time on any gaming forum thanks to the overwhelmingly awful way people on such boards treat each other. We can be a protective, clannish, socially-stunted lot at times and I say this knowing that we can also be the opposite of all those things because I’ve been a part of a wonderful group of geeks for a long time due to my association with the aforementioned gaming club.
But what if..?
What if, when the anime kids wanted to start their own anime club, the gaming club had been up in arms? What if we had gone before the Student Organization Administration and said, “hey, we want to change our organization’s constitution so that no dues-paying member of the anime club can be a dues-paying member of the gaming club?” I mean, they made it easy for us to discriminate, right? By joining the anime club they had self-identified as “other.” So we need them out.
Why? Well, first, we care about gaming and they care about anime and the two worlds should not overlap! Second, if they are allowed to be members of our organization they might undermine our goals and agenda… Worse, they might corrupt current members with ‘anime-isms.’ Third, if they are dues-paying members then they could potentially be put in officer positions which would then allow them to control our group’s direction… Worse, again, some anime kid might even be put in charge of our convention and then be able to change it! We can’t have that, no way, no how.
Now, as a side note, if we had gone to the Student Orgs people and said something like this they would probably have blinked a few times, given us a, “Wait, what now?” Then they would probably have politely explained (maybe slightly embarrassed) that student orgs are there for all students and that we can’t discriminate in our membership…
Luckily, none of that ever happened. We did have officers from the anime club who were also officers in our organization. We had people with close ties to both clubs who ran our convention. We cross-pollinated between gaming kids and anime kids for years with only the expected amount of geek tensions and otherwise acted like intelligent members of a higher education community devoted to diversity, tolerance, and learning.
Now unfortunately, comes the sad truth of our world today… I wrote that little scenario (toned down considerably from its inflammatory first draft – perhaps to its detriment) from the frustration that I feel based on some events actually happening at universities and in the legislatures around us.
I’m going to point out just two cases with some attached readings… but seriously, how any anyone believe this is okay? These first two articles date back to 2010 and relate to events at a California Law School. Find them here and here. These next three (1, 2, 3) are more recent and relate to shameful action on the part of legislators in Tennessee.
I’m currently pursuing a PhD in higher education administration and my response to this question would be to blink a few times, ask, “Wait, what now?” and then explain, a little embarrassed that our university was an inclusive, not discriminatory place, and that students could join student groups. It may seem – at first – like a simplistic answer, but it’s one I’ve given a lot of thought and time to working out. One of the primary functions of higher ed, one of the most desired outcomes on the part of employers and the universities is that students can think critically at a high level… that students learn to see outside of their personal boxes and to look at issues in larger, less discriminatory boxes. One of the goals of many universities today is to be as diverse as possible. I’m not going to sidetrack into all the arguments in favor of diversity at this time, leave it at, “we learn from each other and by experiencing life outside our own little boxes.”
To return to my own – admittedly and shamelessly absurdist – example, the ability to share between the gaming geeks and the anime geeks actually broadened both clubs. Members of both had more experiences than just members of one. Our convention was better staffed and had a pool of people much more devoted to anime running the anime programming and potentially improved attendance. Ideas were shared, friendships made, heck, I even found a few anime that I now love and new stories to broaden my own thinking as a writer, gamer, and imagination-user. Ultimately, diversity makes us better people.
I’m going to quote one bit from Tom Krattenmaker’s piece that fits here,
“But tolerance means much, much more. At its heart, it is a philosophy and moral commitment to accepting the rights of others to believe or behave differently from ourselves without excluding or penalizing. Don’t expect champions of tolerance to “tolerate” acts of exclusion or bigotry that represent the very opposite of the principle they hold so dear.”
If you are at a school where something like this is happening, if you are part of an organization where this is happening – fight back – and don’t stand for intolerance. Don’t let closed minds close yours, don’t let diversity fall back into discrimination. I’m a Christian, a gamer, I’ve been a teacher, and I’m still a student… And this very idea of excluding others in student organizations, even religious ones, just destroys me. I look forward to a bright future for Higher Education. These kinds of behaviors have no part in that bright future, save as warnings of dark paths.