Searching the two words “college” and “controversy” will spark approximately 55,600,000 news results in just 0.13 seconds using Google’s search engine.
A new story on a different collegiate controversy dawns national news sources almost everyday now, and Pacific University is not immune to this. The questions of when to investigate problematic situations, postings or comments and how to handle them plague every college and have since their establishment.
When asked about this, Sarah Phillips, Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, says dealing with internal issues is nothing out of the ordinary for educational institutions.
“Situations like this have been happening on college campuses forever, what is new is how quick we are to judge,” Phillips said. “Sometimes, swift condemnation is called for and sometimes more nuanced and protracted debate is the best path to authentic learning.”
Phillips response alludes to current popular rhetoric; when something controversial is said or done on a college campus the most common action taken is firm denouncement followed by an act of reprehension. These actions are often taken in attempts to make what was done or said out of a controversial context and find a solution as quickly as possible.
Though many of the individuals reading these news stories, university students and Phillips herself cite errors in this way of conflict managing. All parties questioned say there is something missing when problems are handled too hastily, that being a period of open discussion that could lend itself to learning from missteps.
While faculty members on this campus ensure their aim is always to provide a comfortable learning environment for students, they also cite talking about uncomfortable topics as a means to learn and expand one’s thinking.
“Sometimes discomfort is to the service of learning,” Phillips said. “I would rather have students feel slightly uncomfortable while being educated than have them not be exposed to different ideas and sometimes controversial topics.”
Phillips makes clear this type of approach is only applicable to cases in which there is room to grow and learn from differing opinions, not in cases of blatantly harmful or student targeted violations. Any situation that infringes on equal opportunity policies is handled in a vastly different manner.
However, in either type of scenario Phillips wants students to be in a position of power and make their voice heard rather than give in to fragility or hasilty determined solutions.
This sentiment was echoed by a group of five underclassmen surveyed who agreed it is of the utmost importance for people to discuss complex matters and grow from past mistakes.
“The same can be said for the university as an institution of higher learning,” one student said.
Attempts to hide or brush issues under the rug have not kept other universities from becoming yet another Google search result, but a lesson on social justice and open conversation just might have.
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