Emily Tamkin is our lovely overlord at CPU and by extension the patron of this blog. But, by night she’s also an editorial page columnist at the Columbia Spectator. Today she had an article published with Spec about the CUCR scandal that erupted this week, and we think it’s worth a read:
Last week, it became clear that two now-former members of the board of the Columbia University College Republicans lied to this paper and their own organization about plans to bring Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to campus. It is hopefully also clear that we, the board of Columbia’s non-partisan undergraduate political group, believe that their actions were unequivocally unacceptable. However, as the two now-former members are indeed now-former, and as the College Republicans are holding a town hall tonight, it is also clear that CUCR, too, found the aforementioned to be condemnable, and that they are looking to move forward with greater transparency. What may not be clear, however, is that all of us, in and out of political student groups, can and should take this moment to reflect on the sort of political conversation that we want to be having on this campus.
We do not want to suggest that we don’t understand why there was the uproar that there was over last week’s sequence of salacious scandals, because we do. But we most certainly do want to suggest that perhaps the conversation that ensued last week is not the one we want to be having. Because, for all of the people who were eager to talk about the fake invitation, none of the comments that we read on any piece in any campus publication pointed out that, to the Iranian population, Ahmadinejad is decidedly not a joke. Because all of the uproar and Internet exchanges were not over an issue of any substance, but over a prank that went awry. Because, while the example that is set for us leading up to the 2012 election may be one of extreme partisanship, we have the opportunity to set our own example for one another, and to contribute to the electoral atmosphere in some small way. And because, while we can understand why writing a comment about another student’s misdeeds is more appealing than writing about the larger political issue, that’s not what we should be striving to write. That’s not who we should be working to be. This isn’t what we should be talking about when we talk about politics at Columbia.
Ours is a campus with a strong history of political engagement, and our contribution to that history can be as sublime or as senseless as we want it to be. What’s more, college has the potential to be a time to establish, challenge, and reaffirm our political convictions, and there are conversations that we can and should be having to enable that. The one that we were all too willing to take part in next week is probably not among them, but if we use it to consciously elevate the register of our discourse, it could be.
We encourage everyone to go to CUCR’s town hall tonight, both to hear what its board has to say and to contribute to the conversation. We encourage everyone to go to political events, to read and write to political publications, to take the issues of the day seriously (even if we take ourselves not quite so seriously in the process). But above all, we encourage the students on this campus to remember that we are what we speak. If we treat politics like a publicity ploy or an opportunity to comment on a news article, if we treat civic engagement like a joke, then that’s all it will be. But if we treat political conversation like an opportunity to express ourselves, to listen to others, to share what we already know, and to learn what we don’t—maybe it can be that instead.