Students should not be divisive when engaging with campus issues

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On May 5, the Progressive Student Organization (PSO) held a panel on campus called “Toxicity of Fraternity Culture.” Participants discussed the pitfalls of the Greek System, including racist party themes, incidents of sexual misconduct and what could be done about it. The tone of this panel discussion was disheartening.

While fraternities on this campus have been guilty of transgressions, and should be disciplined accordingly from appropriate campus offices, a student group on campus should not be able to label an entire community with incendiary terms. Fixing individuals’ mistakes and reforming the culture of fraternities is important. The first step towards doing that is not for an organization to label a group of people as toxic, inherently misogynistic or chauvinistic.

Students on our campus should be concerned by the nature and tenor of discussions like this. Students should be wary of the fact that an organization dubbing itself as progressive hosted a panel which decried a community of over 2,500 students. That’s not progressive – that’s just mean-spirited.

However, this isn’t the first case of discussion and debate which have eroded our campus climate this past semester. AR 3, the misguided SG resolution which advocated for divestment from certain companies operating within the State of Israel, strongly divided our campus community. Mean-spirited attacks were launched against Texas Hillel, and against several groups in favor of the divestment resolution, attacks which did nothing to further debate on a sensitive and nuanced foreign policy issue. Students on campus felt targeted and frustrated by the resolution – students on both sides of the debate.

As University students, we owe it to ourselves and each other to have substantive conservations about key issues, which at times, may make us uncomfortable. Discussions on campus centering on police brutality, University affiliation with sweatshops, and the reintroduction and subsequent passage of AR 31, an SG resolution which seeks to educate UT students about past incidents of racism on our campus, were difficult but ultimately rewarding conversations to have. But our campus must be careful in the coming weeks and months not to embrace divisiveness or rudeness in advocating for closely-held ideals and values.

Students on our campus should hold themselves to a basic standard of civility. We should have meaningful discussions about issues, organizations and groups without resorting to labeling our fellow students and the organizations they take part in as toxic, manipulative or anything of the sort. That kills conversation, drives a wedge in between groups, and ultimately harms our campus climate.

And students should not be alone in seeking to change the way we debate and discuss issues on this campus. The Division for Diversity and Community Engagement should make more public attempts to bridge the divide between groups on campus. Student Government, led by a refreshing Executive Alliance in Xavier Rotnofsky and Rohit Mandalapu, should advocate for a more inclusive campus environment where discussion, not demagoguery, reigns supreme. And they should not be afraid to take a public stance on sensitive issues or legislation in order to achieve this.

Dialogue on our campus is paramount. But there is nothing wrong, nothing anti-progressive, about advocating for civility and respect in that dialogue. Students on our campus should not be labeled or attacked simply for an organization that they are in. And organizations and issues that are present on our campus deserve a much more sophisticated analysis than a simplistic label like ‘toxic.’ This coming semester, the University community would be well served by a campus climate which seeks to limit demagoguery and demonization, in order to tackle hard issues with austerity, respect and inclusiveness.