Ernest Owens | Saying it to my face

The Ernest Opinion | Why grievances on campus are best addressed in person

· February 28, 2012, 9:14 pm   ·  Updated March 1, 2012, 2:02 am


Ernest Owens
The Ernest Opinion

Recently, the back-and-forth generated over a string of guest columns and letters to the editor on The Daily Pennsylvanian’s opinion page has left my head spinning.

The topic I have in mind was sparked by College freshman and Class Board President Ariel Koren’s guest column on female leadership. After two days or so, nothing new was being added to the conversation around these issues and enough was enough.

I am sure that many of you will agree that these submissions just regurgitated facts and opinions that had been previously addressed. Oftentimes, the points that individuals were making added fuel to the fire rather than diffusing it.

When I read Koren’s guest column, I was pissed. She singled me out and criticized my call for more female leaders on campus. I interpreted it as a slap in the face after endorsing her Class Board candidacy last year. Many of my friends suggested that I come up with a rebuttal and “teach the freshman a lesson.”

But instead of throwing insults at Koren and publicly discrediting her — I went old school. I talked to her about it in person.

I admit that I was not the nicest person while talking to her, but I left our meeting with a clearer picture of her rationale and a genuine apology from Koren for offending me. We remain close acquaintances.

That was last Sunday night. The next morning, I woke up and saw that 13 female student leaders had formulated a joint response to Koren’s column. On Tuesday, College junior Lauren Agresti continued the conversation and College senior Lauren Plotnick, the DP’s former executive editor, chimed in on Wednesday. The week ended with another response from Koren.

Yes, I was just as confused and tired of the debate as you were. As much as I respect what these individuals had to say to each other, a personal email or invitation to lunch should have sufficed. Some things are just better left at the dining hall table.

I am not denouncing anyone’s right to openly express his or her thoughts. As a columnist, I have been granted the privilege to air my own views and ideas every week. But I just do not think that it is tasteful to elongate a debate over several published pieces.

I also find it disheartening that students that interact so closely on this campus cannot have more personal discussions. Instead, they rely on the public forum to demonstrate their disagreements.

College freshman Taylor Blackson who followed the conversations, said, “people are just writing but not listening. While many students are expressing their views publicly, some of the drama created would be simply resolved if both people would talk in person.”

However, there are incidents that warrant a public response from students. The Muslim Students Association’s president and vice president’s open letter to Penn President Amy Gutmann last week the NYPD’s reported monitoring activities, is a good example.

But the weeklong responses to Koren’s column devolved into what could be considered an epic catfight. When the hairballs are all on the floor and the mice have run away — what is accomplished? I am left wondering if any of the tensions raised have been resolved through this debate and whether the women have talked to one another in person.

My mother taught me that problems are best addressed face to face. As confrontational and initially aggressive as that suggestion might sound, it is one of the most liberating and empowering things that a civilized individual can do.

Face to face conversations resolve misunderstandings and invite self-reflection. They remove assumptions and attempt to seek facts. Finally, they show a personal connection and respect toward the individual at hand. For all the controversies that I have been involved in on campus, I cannot think of a time when I did not try to discuss matters with those whom I disagreed with.

As students at this fine University, we were all accepted based on our academic excellence and intellectual potential. We are not so barbaric as to discount human interaction, especially when conflict is involved. Personally addressing someone means putting your words where your mouth is. Instead of writing about it, sometimes, we should just talk about it.

Ernest Owens, an Undergraduate Assembly representative, is a College sophomore from Chicago, Ill. His email address is owense@sas.upenn.edu. The Ernest Opinion usually appears every Friday.

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