Mount Holyoke News

April 16, 1987

"Cause for action," and more letters.

Cause for action
Guest Column

by Valerie Natalie

A recent guest column in The Mount Holyoke News asserted that "the single most threatening problem on our campus [is] apathy."

While it is true that apathy is a legitimate problem at this institution, it is not "the single most threatening problem" confronting us. Rather, apathy is merely a symptom of a larger, more insidious problem that is affecting this school. Specifically stated, the trouble involves deep-seated feelings of anger and resentment fueled by a year-long series of negative words and actions.

No one has escaped this malady. Its effects are felt everywhere from Mead Hall to Hampshire Bank, to the Health Center staff and the head residents, involving everything from blue D's to pink triangles. Every day a new fight emerges, every day a new cause demands our attention.

The result of all this controversy is the slow strangulation of Mount Holyoke by its own hands. Antagonistic attitudes and petty arguments pervade the campus. In the heat of argument, wholly innocent statements are often misinterpreted, and ideas originally intended to be helpful and sensible are misstated, thereby coming across as biased.

We are, therefore, not solving our problems - indeed, we are creating more of them. As each new issue emerges, Mount Holyoke divides itself into two camps: "Us" and "Them." Some examples of this assertion are as follows: "OUR apathy is all HER fault - President Kennan is to blame."; It's not easy for whites to say negro because it reminds THEM of that other 'N' word."; "WE will survive." (The emphasis is mine in each instance.)

Mount Holyoke is presently saturated with a multitude of battling ideologies; we are a splintered mob of "us's" and "thems." Unfortunately for everyone, "they" are us and "we" are them.

This "us versus them" mentality is damaging as well as insipid. It causes feelings of animosity and hatred that are in direct opposition to the principles of Mount Holyoke College. Flagrant emotionalism and sensationalism are the rules of the game. Everybody find a soapbox, and she who yells the loudest must be right. This puerile behavior is unbefitting to the dignity of this institution, and it must end.


The reversal of this destruction will occur only with positive actions. Our statements must neither challenge the logic of our audience nor insult its intelligence. On the contrary; our statements must appeal to the sense of reason in our listeners. We must learn to plan our actions carefully, in order that they will contribute to the well-being of this community, rather than detract from it. In short, we must think. I submit the following sentences as examples of my philosophy:

This community is committed to the belief that sexual freedom is an inherent right of every human being. An act shared in privacy by informed, consenting, adult individuals injures no one, and therefore, poses no threat to the community. We as a community are committed to the support and fostering of this belief in sexual freedom.

It is the contention of this community that race or ethnic background has no influence whatsoever upon human worth or intelligence. As a unified group, we are committed through our open-mindedness to the preservation of this truth, and we refuse to give credence to prejudicial attitudes or ideas founded in ignorance.

The most important aspects of these statements are the respect they accord the reader and the dignity they give every person involved in the situation. They do not offend the reader's intelligence or sensitivities; indeed, they appeal to that reader's sense of justice. Finally, they deemphasize negativism, and concentrate only upon positive ideas.

True, they are idealistic, but they create a medium suitable for the growth of an intelligent, humane, and mature atmosphere at Mount Holyoke. Surely such statements are preferable to the garbage WE have been throwing around lately.

To the Editor:

We are responding to the guest column by Beth Halbrecht, "Thinking the Unthinkable," which appeared in the April 9 edition of the Mount Holyoke News.

Beth maintains that our campus is in mortal danger of being taken over by the "radical liberals" unless we (read all non-"radical liberals") overcome our apathy in the classroom and on the political front. Although we would not name ourselves "radical liberals" (radicals and liberals are two different groups of people and do not necessarily describe all whose political views are left of center), we do attend the vigils and protests - even when it is below 65 degrees. We do not see why this has become a sudden problem. Ever since we entered Mount Holyoke in September 1983, there have been vigils and protests and teach-ins. We do not see it as a sign of a takeover, but as one way of doing just what Beth advises President Kennan to do. We are not pleased with policies enacted by our government, so we are voicing our dissent.

What we really object to is being called first, radical liberals, and then fascists of the left. Our agenda is not to fulfill Beth's Orwellian vision of a "'big sister' who forces all students to think like she does," but to educate ourselves, our community, and to provoke discussion and action. We do not see Mount Holyoke as ripe for a takeover; if anything, it is becoming more "conservative." We agree that apathy is a problem, but the lack of participation in campus elections does not indicate that people are unwilling to work on the issues of sexism, racism, and heterosexism.

Beth encourages us all to become more politically aware by reading the newspaper and informing ourselves. We agree wholeheartedly. What we disagree with is her comparison of reading the paper to plastering the campus with pink triangles. we cannot force people to read the newspaper, but we can make people aware of important issues by putting up pink triangles, holding rallies, and providing workshops in the dorms. We encourage more people to express their points of view, but not to replace what we already have. Learning about "sexual deviancies" (sexual orientation is amore accurate phrase) at a lesbian alliance workshop can do nothing but help in educating the minds of people on campus. Boycotting what forms of education we do have is counterproductive. There are many people in this world, and we should take advantage of as many opportunities to learn from them as we can.

We cannot speak for everyone who attends vigils, protest, meetings, or rallies, but all we want to do is to educate and provide a forum for dialogue and for change. We are not forcing one political ideology. We simply want this campus to be a place where all people can live freely and in peace.

Gloria J. Korsman '87
Rebecca Sechrist '87

To the Editor:

In guest column, "Thinking the Unthinkable," Beth Halbrecht complains of apathy on campus. I agree that this is a major problem at MHC, and that something should be done about it. However, I do not agree with her suggested solutions.

Her first proposal is that the college become co-ed. She wants to bring in men to teach us poor "wimpy girls" to be assertive and competitive. But, a few sentences earlier, she herself said that in co-ed Five-College classes "the girls (sic) rarely speak in class." How will admitting men make the women here more assertive and competitive when, by Beth's own admission, coeducation at other colleges has made women neither more assertive nor competitive? Far from diminishing students' apathy, going co-ed would merely ensure that women remained apathetic without possibility of improvement.

And why would Beth prefer to be controlled by men than by the "few radical students" she fears are going to "take over"? Should this dreaded radical coup occur, and we find it to be unbearable, we will be inspired to take an active interest and role in the campus community. However, if we go co-ed, we will be left without options and, once again, be disenfranchised members of a sexist society.

Beth says "there is no reason to remain silent," yet she criticizes those who do speak. She says we should vocalize our opinions, yet we should not put up pink triangles. She says we should "become more politically aware," yet we should boycott Lesbian Alliance workshops.

Refusing to listen is not the way to become politically aware. There is no justification for the intolerance of others' views. perhaps Beth should be less concerned with the speck of intolerance in her sister's eye and pay more attention to the log in her own.

Sharon L. Krossa '87
Robyn Schinke '90
Heather Campbell '88

To the Editor:

Is Mount Holyoke College really going to give an A.B. in International Relations to a woman who uses the terms "radical liberal" and "sexual deviant"?

Bridget Fahrland '87

To the Editor:

I wish to respond to Beth Halbrecht's column of April 9 entitled "Thinking the Unthinkable." Ms. Halbrecht seems to be confused in many of her assumptions, particularly her idea that radical liberals will take over the Mount Holyoke campus and rule in a "Big Sister" manner. If she would examine the aims of both radicals and liberals, because they are two different schools of political thought, she would discover that their aims are to improve existing conditions for the lower economic classes, create equal opportunities for men and women of all racial and cultural backgrounds, prevent illegal acts by the CIA in Central America and other countries around the globe, etc. In short, it is slanderous to refer to them as "the fascists of the left" when their aims are to promote the rights and humanity that fascist regimes rob from their citizens.

Ms. Halbrecht seems to be theorizing within an "Us vs. Them" framework; a framework that excludes dialogue and communication. Radicals do not devote their efforts to calling Republicans murderers as Ms. Halbrecht claims. Radicals wish to inform, teach and make changes in a system that is oppressing millions and funding and planning the murder of thousands of innocent Nicaraguans and El Salvadorians. To label those with conservative tendencies as murderers would exclude them from the educational process. It is Ms. Halbrecht, not radicals or liberals, who is doing this.

As for her claim that she is condemned by liberals and radicals for embarking on a conservative career, that is simply not so. I consider myself a very politically conscious person, and yet I have accepted a position with a very conservative national newspaper after graduation in hopes of exchanging ideas with editors and staff, and having some consciousness raising and informative articles published in a medium that is considered to have prestige and authority in this capitalist system.

I think Ms. Halbrecht has missed the point. If she spent any time in the Career Services Office this year she would have found that the majority of the recruiters who came to campus were from commercial and investment banks, insurance companies and major corporations such as Proctor & Gamble. Obviously, the student wishing to embark on a career with such an agency would have had ample opportunity to do so, but what about those students who came to Mount Holyoke to receive a liberal arts education, and do not wish to apply their educational skills to a career in business? They had no opportunity to receive interviews on campus.

Mount Holyoke's recruiting list could have been duplicated from the career development office at Wharton Business School. If major corporations and banks are the only recruiters that Mount Holyoke can offer its graduating students, it is a hypocrisy for our school to call itself a liberal arts college for women.

Ms. Halbrecht's claim that Mount Holyoke should be made co-ed for the purpose of checking the "radical liberals" who wish to take over is absurd. She also calls Mount Holyoke women "wimpy girls who seem unable to speak up in class, run for an elected position, or vote for those who do run." and she recommends admitting men as a solution to this problem.
First of all, I have been a member of the Mount Holyoke community for four years and I have had the opportunity to take four courses at other schools in the five college system. I have never found Mount Holyoke women to be any less vocal in class than men or women at any of the other schools. The only area in which I have found Mount Holyoke students to be less vocal than either students at the University of Massachusetts, Hampshire and Smith Colleges is in the area of student activism. This, however, is reflective of many college campuses around the country, and I do agree with Ms. Halbrecht that there is a looming apathy over this and many other college campuses.

Ms. Halbrecht admits that men are taught to be more assertive than women, but she does not ask herself why, nor does she believe that this practice is wrong. Instead, she condemns women for the socialization they receive and recommends bringing in males to "show us how to be assertive and more competitive." I am sorry Ms. Halbrecht that you feel you need a male role model to show you how to properly assert yourself. I think if you take a look around, you will find that those pink triangles that you so dislike are Mount Holyoke women asserting their rights and their opinions. These are obviously not wimpy women.

If you are sick of seeing pink triangles do not claim that radicals and liberals call you a heterosexist. That title is reserved for individuals that deface the Lesbian Alliance bulletin board, and participate in such other inhumanitarian actions as "gay bashing." Why don't you go to a Women Against Heterosexism (WAH) meeting so that you can engage in dialogue with these women and come to a better understanding of their concerns. I think you will find them to be very assertive women who are very personable and would welcome your input. After all, isn't that why the pink triangles were put up in the first place?

Finally, Ms. Halbrecht, I encourage you to do less name calling and labeling and more listening and research. You are unfounded in grouping the Libyans and the Sandinistas under the label of terrorists. How much do you know about the history of the Sandinistas and their founder Augusto Cesar Sandino? Do you realize that the American government has been imposing its will on the Nicaraguan people since the middle of the nineteenth century when Cornelius Vanderbilt, backed by the American government, used his fortune to push for a canal across Nicaragua, which would later be cut through Panama, and to finance revolutions in Central America? Sandino and his supporters fought long battles to finally regain control of their country in 1979, and now the CIA is training death squads to murder Nicaraguan civilians and public officials. If labels much be used, wouldn't it be more appropriate to call the CIA a terrorist group?

Edgar Chamorro, a former leader of the Nicaraguan Contra rebels who spoke at UMass on April 9, quit because he found that "the Nicaraguan people did not want democracy because capitalist democracy would allow only a few people to have everything, while the rest would have nothing." Capitalist democracy is accomplishing just that in this country right now, so why do we wish to impose it on a poor country made up of mostly farmers and peasants? Do you really believe that if such a weak country were to adopt a socialist government that they would set out to spread "evil" communism all over the Americas? Be reasonable Ms. Halbrecht, it will not happen.

As a radical, or whatever other title you would give me, I encourage you to attend Lesbian Alliance workshops, peace demonstrations and to read critically the propoganda on the "evil empire," and the "Sandinista terrorists" put out by the U.S. government. Also read the accounts of CIA covert operations, in which their kidnapping and murder of thousands of civilians is documented. Then, Ms. Halbrecht, reach into the resources of your humanity and your liberal arts education and form your own opinions. Do not divide and label members of the Mount Holyoke community. We are all educated women who I'm sure believe in the ideals of democracy. But as educated women, it is time that we see what the realities of capitalist democracy in this country really are.

Monica Gonzales '87

To the Editor:

Oh, so much to say .... I promised myself that this letter wouldn't take a sarcastic tone, but after rereading Ms. Halbrecht's guest column ("Thinking the Unthinkable," MH News; 4/9), I decided to return the favor.

Beth, what the hell were you talking about? The article went from labeling President Kennan's statements "knee-jerk liberal" to calling for Mount Holyoke to go co-ed, to telling women that they should organize Lesbian Alliance workshop boycotts if they felt so inclined. In between you warned us of radical liberal takeovers and insulted the academic competence of all of us. Bit by bit I got the idea that you started out with the vague notion of telling the conservative community to get out there and DO something, but I can't be sure. Fighting through your illogic and paranoia simply left me no energy for interpretation. I was almost too tired to go out and hang up my silly pink triangles.

What exactly are you so afraid of? Possibly having to accede that there is indeed a valid liberal viewpoint and that we work toward our goals in a peaceful manner? No, of course not, not you! You're afraid you'll wake up one day and everyone will be wearing tie-dye. You'll be press-ganged into low-paying social service helping battered terrorists.

All kidding aside, the references and attitudes in your article enrage me. Do you actually expect mutual respect and open-mindedness from the "radical liberal" community when your writing drips condescension and sarcasm? Terms like "the spring protesting season" prove to me that all you are interested in doing is trashing liberals. Since you haven't the sound logic and reasoning to present your point of view, you resort to this kind of baiting. When you grow up enough to have a defendable point of view, come tell us about it. In the meantime, stop cluttering up the newspaper with your pseudo-political gibberish.

Jen Ross '87
Jodie Infantine '87

To the Editor:

I was both greatly confused and amused by Ms. Halbrecht's recent article to the MHC News. The point of the article that most confused me was that I could not find the point of the article. At first Halbrecht seemed to be concerned by the imminent "radical liberal takeover" of M.H.C. Then Halbrecht immediately switched her focus to say "the single most threatening problem on our campus ... is apathy." Then she began to get angry about the only students she perceived to be working towards change and to be fighting the apathy she is so afraid of. This is where I began to get really lost. This was only the first paragraph.

Halbrecht then went on in her article to insult President Kennan, insult the S.G.A., insult the entire student body, and recommend that our school go co-ed. I personally would like to state here that I and some others I attend classes with at this venerable institution of higher learning, talk fairly often in class. In some classes, I never shut up. I know quite a few people who can make the same claim. But I am fairly certain that as a vigiler, member of W.A.H., participant in the recent peace encampment, etc. ... I am (and probably most of my friends are) one of the radical liberals of who Halbrecht is so scared.

Another statement that Halbrecht made was that "the radicals are always yelling about something, why not you too?" It has been pointed out to me that this brings to mind everyone yelling at each other. How pleasant or productive could this be? I wonder if it is possible that we could all talk reasonably with one another instead. I wonder if this is even what Halbrecht wants. And indeed, why are the radicals yelling anyway? It might be because it often seems that no one listens or cares otherwise.

If the main point of Halbrecht's article was: do not be apathetic, fight for what you believe in, no matter what it might be or how unpopular a view it might be; then I agree with Halbrecht on this. I already follow this philosophy. I only wish she had stated it differently. If however, the point of Halbrecht's article was that students should fear and hate the liberal element on this campus, or that M.H.C. should go co-ed, I am very sorry that she feels that way. Mostly, however, I wish that I did know what the point of Halbrecht's article was.

Victoria I. Streiff '90
Noelle Thurlow '87
Jennifer Potratz '90

To the Editor:

The hidden agenda in Beth Halbrecht's article seemed quite obvious to me. She appears to be homophobic and proud of it. Why can't she just admit it? If, as she says, Mount Holyoke can be tolerant of lesbians, we can certainly be tolerant of Beth. Come on out of your conservative closet - tell the truth - we can take it.

Seana Eaton '87

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