An Uneven Playing Field

When I played soccer growing up, the coin toss was the most important part of the game. The coin toss determined which team shot on which goal during the first half, and my teammates and I knew that this was a critical factor in determining who would emerge victorious at the end of our sixty-minute game: the field we played on was heavily slanted so that one goal was downhill relative to the other goal, and was therefore much easier to score on. Soccer is a low-scoring game, and it’s very rare for a team to build up the momentum to come back from behind to win the game. This meant that scoring the first goal was a must, and as such, it was essential to win the coin toss if we wanted to win the game.

Looking back, I find it troublesome that the coin toss, a seemingly insignificant event, was able to serve as such an accurate predictor of the outcome of our games. All of the fancy dribbling, well-placed corner kicks, and diving headers, no matter how spectacular, were not enough to overcome the effects of the coin toss. One team scores all of its goals in the first half, and the other team scores all of its goals in the second half. There is no back-and-forth, no change in lead. Essentially, all of the excitement and competitiveness of the game is taken away. Most importantly, the coin toss was only relevant due to the lack of a level playing field.

When I arrived in college last year, I noticed a similar phenomenon on my campus. I recall one day in particular when, as I was scrolling through my Facebook news feed, I came across an advertisement for a party that Kappa Delta, one of the fraternities at my school, was throwing. They described the event as an America- themed party, where partygoers would attend dressed in red, white, and blue, in what the fraternity members described as a celebration of patriotism. It didn’t sound like anything special to me. KD threw similar parties (albeit with different themes) just about every week, and I didn’t usually go anyway.

The night of that party, I managed to get my schoolwork done early, so I decided I’d stop by. When I returned to my room after swim practice, I looked at the KD Facebook page to check the time of the party. When the page loaded, I was perplexed by what I saw. A series of angry comments, many of which were well over 500 words, had been posted in response to the description of the party. These comments claimed that the party was “insensitive and indirectly promoted imperialism, violence, and racist power structures,” as written in The Student Life, the newspaper for my college and four others nearby.

Captain America GraphicMany students seemed to feel that because of the problems in the United States’ past, it was wrong to celebrate their native country. The commenters on the Facebook page pointed out such tragedies as the Ku Klux Klan, Islamophobia, and white supremacy as reasons that it should be unacceptable to host an America- themed party. I don’t think there’s an argument to be made that parties in support of the Ku Klux Klan, Islamophobia, or white supremacy are acceptable. However, I think these students’ concerns were misplaced. I don’t believe that honoring the US suggests that one supports everything that everyone who has ever lived in the US has ever done. No country is perfect, and somebody who supports his or her home nation is not necessarily implying that he or she supports a patriarchal system of imperial domination. To assume this is as unfair as using a single coin toss, ignoring all of the other events on the field over the course of the game, to determine its outcome.

A handful of fairly well-known websites came across the story of Pomona’s America Party, and their perspective on the situation was essentially a more extreme version of mine. Barstool U, a blog written by and for college students, displayed some of the more elaborate complaints my classmates had posted on the KD page, and made mocking comments criticizing their validity by writing things along the lines of “Seriously you got to love to anti-America anti-Imperialism outrage coming from a private residential liberal arts college in California.” Additionally, turtleboysports, a similar blog, went down a comparable list of comments that had been posted and pointed out the areas that it believed were ridiculous. Turtleboysports took things a step further, though, by adding embarrassing photos they had dug up on Facebook of the commenters they were riffing. The students who were the subjects of these blog posts insisted this was a violation of their privacy and took their frustration to the administration.

Though I recognize that my college was only trying to stand up for the students who felt humiliated, I was unimpressed with the school’s response. Upset by the fact that external bloggers had been making fun of Pomona students, the Deans ultimately pressured the members of Kappa Delta into sending out a mass apology to the student body. It made no sense to me that Kappa Delta was forced to apologize for the actions of people who were entirely independent from them. What happened was not their fault, and was entirely beyond their control. In the apology, they wrote:

“On Monday night Kappa Delta published a description for an event called ‘America Pub,’ which can still be found below for reference. That description was not only exclusionary, but condoned war and implicitly suggested that Kappa Delta supports all US policies, past and present, including those which have deprived human beings of basic rights and freedoms. As your classmates and peers, we, the brothers of Kappa Delta, sincerely apologize for the thoughtless nature of the event description, which does not reflect the standard we hold ourselves to.”

While the party was allowed to continue, it was clear that it was not welcome. Students angrily protesting the party’s theme vastly outnumbered those who were just hoping to head over to Dom’s Lounge and relax. Anyone who wore clothing with stars and stripes on it was subject to ridicule. Needless to say, the party didn’t last very long.

I was appalled by the events of that night. I certainly don’t believe that anyone should be forced to celebrate America, but I also don’t believe that anyone should be forced not to. There are not many countries in the world where one has the right to freedom of speech, and I’m fortunate to live in one of them. However, I fear that this freedom is waning, particularly on college campuses.

Pomona College, like many similar schools, is quick to point out its commitment to diversity on campus. I’m a huge supporter of diversity, as I believe different perspectives coming together are what inspire innovation. In my opinion, the best way to learn about something or develop an idea is to hear the outlook of a person who thinks differently than you do.

Unfortunately, Pomona’s commitment to diversity does not extend to diversity of ideas. This is most obvious when considering controversial current events. Politically, I identify as a moderate. At Pomona, this seems to mean my opinions are not worth hearing. Any time I offer a minority perspective on a complicated issue, my thoughts are immediately dismissed. My opinions, as well as those of anyone whose stance is in his/her community’s minority, are silenced. I’ve learned a lot from my classmates over the past year, for which I’m very thankful. I think my classmates would be glad to learn from people whose opinions differ from their own as well, and as such I wish there were more open discourse on my campus.

What I believe is the biggest problem on college campuses nationwide, based on the collective experiences of my friends and myself, is the increasingly one-sided presentation of information. At Pomona, I’ve noticed that there is limited freedom of speech for those whose opinions are “more conservative.” At other schools, there is limited freedom of speech for those whose opinions are different from whatever their school’s majority is, whether it’s “too liberal,” or “too religious,” or “pro-choice” or any number of things. I don’t care whether someone agrees with me or not. Everyone should have the right to say what they believe and engage in a discussion with their peers. In college, it’s our job to learn how to think, not what to think. It’s impossible for a judge to form a decision after hearing only one side of the story.

5 thoughts on “An Uneven Playing Field”

  1. You make the claim that the injustices of the US should not define us as a nation. Then you use the example of the America party to support the very general claim that your moderate beliefs will not be accepted at all of Pomona. This seems contradictory.

  2. What the heck…. yeah that’s kinda messed up. No matter what it is one has “pride” in, there’s going to be something negative about that group. Pride is looking past that to see the good. And it’s wanting to improve it to be the best. When I celebrate my pride in America, I’m celebrating my pride in a country that has come a remarkable way and am encouraged to work to improve America even more.
    And it’s honestly a double standard. When I celebrate my Chicano heritage – which I’m sure our liberal arts colleges would allow – I’m not exactly condoning what some of the Spanish settlers did to the Native Americans. And I feel like some argument of this sort can be applied to almost everything.

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