Silence betokens ... What?
by Kathleen van Schaijik
Two months ago I issued the Student Life Office an implicit challenge by making my criticisms of their efforts toward households public. My hope and expectation at the time was that they would respond to this challenge in an equally public way—either by coming to the defense of their policies or by acknowledging that serious adjustments were needed. This they have not done. Why?
In olden days it was understood that to walk away from a challenge was to display, if not cowardice, then contempt either for the object of the challenge or the person of the challenger. Current culture is much murkier, and the meaning of such omissions is not so obvious; but there must be some explanation for this strange silence on their part.
I know the men and women who run the FUS Student Life Office are not cowards; and it is impossible even to imagine that they do not care enough about the welfare of students and households to bother answering urgent concerns that their policies are doing more harm than good.
We might have surmised that they consider my opinion so manifestly false as to be beneath attention, except for the fact that that opinion was energetically corroborated by so many respectable members of the FUS community. In truth, not a single article in the history of the Concourse has met with such enthusiastic and unanimous approval, so far as written responses go. And, besides those published I received numerous personal remarks of congratulation and thanks for the article—from students, professors, administrators, staff, parents and (especially) alumni. (One ‘89 alum wrote: “I want you to know how much I appreciated your article on the households. That was great. I loved my household my first year, but thereafter it was truly a dreaded commitment for all the reasons you listed…you did a great favor to FUS by writing it.”) And although the article was deemed “daring” and “controversial” by practically everybody, and though I am told that some people connected with Student Life deeply resented it, it is a fact that I have heard not one serious challenge to its substance, either at first or second hand.
Some could speculate that SLO employees simply have no time to reply. But I say, if they are too busy to address such grave and widespread doubts about the wisdom of their basic approach to households, they are too busy indeed.
My own guess—and it is just a guess—is that their silence is, at least in part, a protest against my having written the article in the manner I did—that is, without consulting them first. I suspect they think that if I had a problem with their way of doing things I should have gone to them privately rather than making my concerns public. With this I simply do not agree.
The decision to write the article without consulting the Student Life Office was deliberate, and I had many reasons for it. For one, I did not want to come under pressure not to publish it, as I thought I might if officials heard of it in advance. For another, not going to them was a way of defying the false notion that I ought to go to them—as if only Student Life officials are in a position to discuss household life. But my main intention was to reach household members themselves—to urge them to take responsibility for how their household are organized and run. The hope of persuading Student Life to change its policies and practices was only a secondary consideration. Another reason was that private criticisms are apt to be taken too lightly as the isolated hang-ups of disgruntled, hypersensitive or “wounded” individuals; a public consensus is not so easily dismissed. Saying my say, as it were, “out loud” was an invitation for others to speak out similarly, and thus a way of exposing the reality and seriousness of the problem.
But perhaps I have misconstrued the silence of the SLO.
The pages of the Concourse are open to their point of view.
Kathleen van Schaijik