By: Max D. (’18)
In August of 2016, the University of Chicago sent a letter to its incoming freshman plainly stating that the college would not support or encourage ‘trigger warnings’ or ‘safe spaces’. The university asserted that allowing students to shape the school’s curriculum away from material that was controversial or uncomfortable would hamper the freedom given to their professors to pursue ideas and challenge established thought. The reason I bring this up is because of a club at Crystal Springs called Keep it Real. The club markets itself as an Affinity Group(AG) for those who wish to discuss the issues facing people of color in our community and in our society in general. However, for the purposes of this article I will use another term to define this club: a Closed Affinity Group(CAG). The distinction is that while both groups are based around a shared interest or goal, a CAG creates specific limits over who can join their organization. In the case of Keep it Real, the requirement is that in order to join, one must be a person of color. For the school administration to support Keep it Real in its current form fundamentally erodes the strength of our community at Crystal Springs, sets a dangerous precedent, and does a great disservice to the members of Keep it Real itself.
Behind “Fake” and “Crooked”, one of the words I have heard the most in the last year and a half has been “divisive”. Regardless of one’s political leanings, it is hard to argue that the “us vs. them” mindset has been prevalent on all sides of the political discourse in this country. Whether it’s Rich vs. Poor, Lazy vs. Hard-working, Racist vs. Not-Racist vs. Passively condoning Racism, I think that most people would agree that it serves mostly as a way to lob ad hominem attacks and make broad generalizations of the other side, in lieu of civil debate. The goal of the “us vs. them” mindset is to reduce anyone who thinks, votes, acts, or is a certain way to the worst stereotype of that person. Whether or not you agree with Keep it Real’s policy in practice, it does seem to follow an “us vs. them” mindset. This naturally places white students into the “them” category. The problem with this is that it assumes that all white students at Crystal obey the stereotype of the racist white person who opposes social change and thinks themselves inherently superior to minorities. Given this, a white student at this school could very reasonably ask, “Have I specifically and deliberately done something to deserve this reputation?” Obviously, for most if not all of the white students at Crystal the answer to that question is “no”, but an “us vs. them” policy ignores such trivialities and forces those students into a single generalization.
One of the hallmarks of our community at Crystal is that every single member has a right to contribute, regardless of their background, privilege, race, gender or sexual orientation. While the “us vs. them” mindset perpetrated by Keep it Real overtly maligns white students, the subtler consequences of the club’s policies seeks to marginalize the contributions of a certain group, and dictate the value of a student’s perspective based on factors beyond anyone’s control. This is evidenced by the existence of the Keep it Real initiative, “Big Time Snack Time”, where white students are allowed to observe a club meeting, provided that they do not actively participate. While this may seem as an attempt to assuage the concerns of those who feel that white students should not be excluded on the basis of race, in reality this practice sends the message that the contributions of white students are not worthy of consideration. Having spent nearly four years in a community where freedom of thought has been held above all else, it is disheartening to now find this value under threat.
Before I continue, I would like to make it clear that this article is not meant as an attack against the members of Keep it Real. My goal is simply to point out why the school administration should not be supporting the exclusion policy of the club, and I would have no problem with that organization beyond that one practice. I cannot fault those students for trying to better understand what it means to be a person of color in this country, but I certainly would fault the administration for failing to act in the best interests of their students. One of the most important responsibilities of any school is to prepare students for the rest of their lives. A school that does not do this, or that prepares students for a reality that does not exist is failing its obligation. Every safe space or CAG is built upon the lie that the world is whatever you want it to be. We all want every injustice to be punished, every wrong to be righted and every prejudice to evaporate, and the temptation to imagine up that world can be irresistible. This problem is amplified at a school like Crystal Springs which, for all its many strengths, is undeniably a bubble. In such an environment, Keep it Real is especially dangerous.
As I neither intend on joining the club, nor believe that the white students at Crystal are facing any real oppression from the organization, my issue is not with Keep it Real in a vacuum. My issue is that the administration is choosing what is popular and what is easy over what is in the best interest of the students to whom it is entrusted. I think it’s fair to say that most people don’t want to be thought of as a bigot or intolerant, but CAGs are a sirens’ song that do nothing to protect those within and do real harm to everyone involved.