Why I Haven’t Signed the EC Resolution
By Nathan Richendollar '19
Currently, the Executive Committee’s Resolution condemning violence and racism has only 426 signatories out of over 2,000 current students. How could that be? Is it really the case that over 75% of us endorse racism, or so casually oppose it as to not take the effort to type our names? Of course not. The problem is that in drafting the resolution, something went amiss. It’s not a resolution that simply asks us to condemn racism and violence, it also asks us to agree to a series of statements, the third of which is, “[I resolve to] support and improve diversity and inclusivity within the student body and greater Washington and Lee community.” Good grief. Can’t we keep partisan politics and progressive dogma out of a document meant to be universal in its campus appeal? Apparently not. It’s a common tactic: start from a supposition that nearly everyone agrees to be correct (that racism and violence are wrong) and then divide the argument into two camps: those who agree with the progressive response in full and everyone else, who, by default, get labeled as racist or bigoted for not assenting in full.
Instead of crafting a resolution that said simply, “I resolve to oppose racism, hatred, and violence on campus,” a statement that would have garnered universal agreement, the resolution was crafted to make being a conservative and being a racist look like the same thing, and if it wasn’t crafted with that intent, that was its effect. For this reason, among others, hundreds of students felt sufficiently alienated from the resolution to forego signing their names. If I don’t support affirmative action, that goes against the third statement. If I oppose the proposed culture and diversity FDR, that goes against the third statement. If I have issues with the presentation methods of sex week, that could be construed as a violation of the third statement. If I think America must balance national security and cultural dissonance against its desire to accept all immigrants, then the third statement isn’t for me. For the reasons mentioned above, I have not signed the Executive Committee’s resolution and will not do so until given a clear, unambiguous, nonpartisan resolution.
Before we go further, let me state that it is entirely possible that the student groups that drafted the resolution and the Executive Committee, which approved the measure by a simple majority vote, meant to take no political stance in the third statement, and merely meant that we should respect diverse opinions and be more open to opposing opinions. But if they meant this, they should have clarified as such. When someone sees supporting “diversity and inclusion,” they immediately think of affirmative action, cultural relativism, and greater permissiveness. As Hamilton might say, “It is a thing more ardently to be wished than seriously to be expected” that when the student body sees the language of social liberalism embedded in the resolution, they would discount it. It takes an active imagination to read something nonpartisan into phrases like “diversity and inclusivity” used so often by the social left to justify things like sex week, privilege walks for campus staff, open borders, and calls for affirmative action in admissions and faculty hiring practices. Indeed, events of late show that a substantial proportion of the student body sees the resolution as a binding agreement to hew oneself to progressive dogma. Such a resolution would be perfectly fine, if it were labelled truthfully, “A Resolution to Never be a Social Conservative Again.” It would measure social liberalism, not opposition to racism and support for America’s foundation of equal rights and human dignity. A resolution condemning racism and hatred is no place to make divisive statements in a back-door attempt to silence social conservatives on campus.
The potential use of the student body resolution as a weapon against free expression on campus has several implications. Ben Gee, a friend of mine and a fellow writer at the Spectator, wrote an article this past issue that questioned the validity of “emotional violence” in speech and suggested that Washington and Lee maintain free speech even in the face of such difficult questions as Lee’s place in our history and our ties to the Confederacy, along with a satire that imagined a future where our university is renamed for Booker T. Washington and Bruce Lee. He also signed the Executive Committee’s resolution. Immediately after publication of Ben’s articles, many students began calling for an honor trial, since his alleged disobedience of core progressive orthodoxy clearly contradicted his pledge to uphold “diversity and inclusivity” and “oppose all extremist ideologies.” Thankfully, this effort has gone nowhere fast, but its existence indicates two things: 1. The student body resolution is poorly-worded and definitively ideological, and 2. Some students are willing to use the honor system to make political witch-hunting our newest varsity sport. This shows that even if the resolution was not intended to have a political dimension, this is how many students are interpreting it, and the issue requires either re-drafting the resolution or promulgating a well-publicized clarification. Otherwise, we may see our honor system turned against students for purely political reasons, a real shame for an institution that prides itself on civil discourse and respectful disagreement.
In re-drafting their resolution to truly represent the student body, or in clarifying the current resolution, the EC and the student groups responsible for the resolution would do well to emulate the example of Amnesty International. Despite my profound disagreements with that group on policy prescriptions, I signed a piece of construction paper at lunch a few weeks ago on the understanding that I was signing my name in solidarity with the victims of Charlottesville and in condemning violent racism and its hateful worldview. Simple enough. No gotcha clauses, no invocation to be a missionary for ambiguously defined “diversity and inclusivity.” Something everyone can get on board with. Ironically, the uber-left leaning (though technically non-partisan) Amnesty International produced a much better, more universal resolution than our Executive Committee, which is supposed to represent the general student body. The current resolution is much too vague, politically-charged, and dangerous in its implications if left in its current form. It makes the honor system a constraint on free thought and a political weapon as much as an invocation to honor and decency. Political persecution and broad-spectrum lumping of one’s political adversaries into “baskets of deplorables” have no place on our campus. The current resolution, if its smaller-than-desired list of signatories hints anything, does not speak for the whole student body, and maybe not even a majority - and it certainly does not speak for me. As I interpret the current form of the resolution, it amounts to a crude and thinly disguised act of political gamesmanship below the dignity of the Executive Committee and the esteemed groups that drafted it in the first place. Judging from the character and values of the people who sit on those bodies, it is highly likely that the resolution was not intended to divide so many, but regardless of its intent, its legitimate purpose should be clarified, and clarified promptly.