After considering the responses to Professor Dumm’s piece, “The Elephant in the Room,” on-line and in The Student (Feb 13 and Feb 20 issues), I am struck that, for a “reading” college, so many students, administrators, faculty members and alumni seemed to have eschewed critical reading skills in order to excoriate sternly and emotionally the attitudes of a respected member of the community. We may not agree with our critics, but we should at least treat them honorably.
False analogies, character attacks, disingenuous expressions of “sadness” and “disappointment,” accusations of insensitivity, vituperation, selective analysis, questioning of motives: all of these are devices of rhetorical discourse that we try to teach our students to challenge. Yet, if one studies the responses to the article, it would seem that critical reading is not a skill as widely shared by the College community as I had thought.
Professor Dumm raises three key points in his article: why didn’t the SOCSM look more probingly into an aspect of our culture that may, just may, have a relationship with sexual violence? Why did the Committee apparently dismiss any further examination of that question? And, given that he had no ready answer, he offered a suggestion, one that many found offensive: is it perhaps because of the importance of athletics to the image of the College, especially among alumni?
That’s it. He does not attack athletes or their sports. He does not state or imply that athletes are bad students. He certainly does not suggest that student athletes are disreputable individuals. Nor does he criticize coaches or our athletic programs, including football. He simply raises questions.
Suppose that, in our classes, every time they brought up an unpleasant topic, our students were attacked this casually, with so much foggy misinformation, so much sarcasm and insult, and so much disdain. What kind of “teaching” college would we be then?
Can we not agree that to raise a sensitive and controversial issue does not imply a bad character, a prejudiced teacher or hidden motives?
Is there a safe haven where sensitive aspects of our campus culture can be freely discussed with frankness, yet good will?
At least, we can still call ourselves the “singing” college.