It is a common perspective that ‘politics’ is some distant, abstract realm of discourse that takes place somewhere ‘out there.’ That smarmy intellectuals, twisting their moustaches in contemplation, on occasion deign to step in to explicate a few points, perhaps even condescend to let loose some passion, before removing themselves, tidying their suits, and going back to class to return to their actual and more serious education.
This designation of politics as a thing separate from real life and real education is nonsensical and unpragmatic. On the one hand, politics impacts and is intertwined with every nuance of how we navigate the world. On the other, political discourse teaches us how our societies function, how we want them to function, and who our adversaries are. That this is constructed as, somehow, a thing separate from our learning experience as part of a university campus is ridiculous.
This separation imposed between politics and life doesn’t extend to everyone. The ability to segregate politics from one’s daily life is a privileged position only granted to those that don’t feel the material impact of the current political discourse. It might be easy, say, for cisgender individuals to take a peek at what trans people and their adversaries have to say about protections against discrimination, and then step aside and go about their day, forgetting about it. But for trans people who face the hatred and oppression the world serves out to them on the daily, it’s less easy to ignore what political positions people are taking with regards to trans rights.
These political battles might seem messy and overwhelming on first glance, and for a lot of people, it seems easiest to declare neutrality on the issue, close one’s mouth and stroll back to lecture. But declaring impartiality is akin to the declaration that things are okay as they stand, that it’s inconsequential whether or not change is enacted. When political controversy is nearly always initiated when a marginalized group articulates a want of change in the current system, this declaration of neutrality means siding against the oppressed. It communicates to us that our issues are arbitrary, our struggles are not worth fighting over or even mumbling some half-hearted acquiescence to.
Political controversy might have inconvenienced the student body by materializing in all its chaotic and confused messiness on campus last year. It might have made it difficult for some students to concentrate on essays or exams with all that energy, frustration, and embitterment pulsing through. But occasions like that aren’t separate from one’s learning experience, one’s maturation and growth as a person. And if attacks on the marginalized and our subsequent retaliations function to primarily annoy and distract, perhaps one’s priorities and positionality should be reassessed.
As the Editorial Board’s article stated, battles like last year’s aren’t one-off happenstances. They’re manifestations of a larger struggle that has been ongoing for years. To delegate them to passionate arguments that students might want to ignore is to undermine the weight of them and the significance of what both sides are hoping to achieve. To have these perspectives surface on our campus could be a great learning experience for students — we get to reflect on how we truly feel about marginalized groups and their oh-so-inconvenient want for respect, and we get to see what our classmates have to say about that.