Letter to the Editor: 155.1

Michelle Gallagher, Graduate Student, English Department

Last November, Assistant Professor of Philosophy Jason Leddington wrote an excellent Letter to the Editor about nonconformity. One memorable quote of his was from David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech at Kenyon College. I revisit this speech every few months, and as this new semester begins, I’m reminded of another part of Wallace’s speech when he speaks about functioning on our “default setting.”

This default setting is often lazily critical, especially in the way we relate to and perceive others. As a former Bucknell “independent” who seriously considered transferring, I can understand the urge to slip into apathy or easy cynicism about what most see as the dominant culture here on campus. Indeed, when current students discover that I am an alumna who returned for the graduate program, I’m often met with bewildered faces and an exasperated “Why would you come back here?” But you, Bucknellian-who-doesn’t-always-feel-like-a-Bucknellian, actually play an invaluable role in making Bucknell what it is and what it will be.

Like almost every elite-ish American university, Bucknell has its toxic elements. But these elements are not immutable and we shouldn’t believe that we cannot work to improve the way individuals feel and treat one another in our community. It may be hard to believe, but as an alumna I can say from experience that Bucknell has become notably more inclusive and sensitive to difference over the past five years. We have a long, long way to go.

What I take from this observation is that members of the Bucknell community have the power to change this place for the better. Programs and organizations like the Office of LGBTQ Awareness, Common Ground, Speak UP, and the Women’s Resource Center work to provide safe, welcoming spaces that didn’t exist on campus until only a short time ago when I was an undergraduate. I graduated with the first generation of the Bucknell Community College Scholars Program, and several years later the program has expanded and become an integral part of the Bucknell community.

Last semester, there were impressive movements in student activism. Students worked to generate open dialogues about topics such as alternative social spaces, sexual violence, environmental concerns, and the campus political climate. I have heard students candidly discuss experiences of racial and cultural insensitivity from peers, spiritual challenges they face in and out of the classroom, and feelings of shame about socioeconomic background.

These discussions are important and need to continue, but what we sometimes forget is that engaging in these conversations requires the humility and wisdom to listen. In “Tiny Beautiful Things,” another brilliant writer, Cheryl Strayed, shared this piece of advice in a letter to her younger self: “Your assumptions about the lives of others are in direct relation to your naïve pomposity.” It’s incredible, when we actually open ourselves to listening to others, how true this statement proves itself to be.

To be completely honest, I’m still annoyed by a lot of aspects of life at Bucknell, but I’m encouraged by the spirit of community-building I’ve witnessed among students, faculty, and staff the past year and a half. Rather than feel discouraged by Bucknell’s problems, I hope more people feel invigorated by the opportunity and the collective desire to address those problems. I’m looking forward to seeing how we move past our default settings and grow as individuals and as a community this semester and beyond.

 

BFF

 

Michelle Gallagher

Graduate Student, English Department

 

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