When Students Organizing for Unity and Liberation first formed on campus toward the end of the last school year, we were intrigued by its stated mission to “elevate the political and social consciousness of the student body at Penn” while “educat[ing] the masses on how to take action.” We hoped that SOUL’s aim would be to contribute to an expansion of intellectual diversity and meaningful exchange regarding issues of race and power structures on campus and in the world around us. With the benefit of hindsight, however, we can unfortunately observe that this hope has been dashed. Rather, SOUL has at every turn sought to invoke controversy and division in order to distinguish themselves on campus.
Their mission of division was more evident than ever this past Friday when SOUL demonstrated outside the Phi Delta Theta fraternity house on Locust Walk, equating the purchase of a blow-up sex doll by a college student to the purchasing of human life by slave owners in the pre-war South. A slave auction? Really? We would like to ask SOUL what exactly it aimed to achieve with this demonstration beyond the stoking of social and racial tensions.
Tactics such as these, which are so openly hostile toward large groups of the student population, add little value to the discussion of race, gender and power, and serve only to drive wedges between people who should instead be coming together. Take the further example of the white robe-adorned student, meant to represent a Ku Klux Klan member, holding hands with another student dressed as a police officer, which occurred not long before the protest Friday and was also put together by SOUL. The irony, of course, is that police protection allows this University to exist, and it is those same police who ensure SOUL can hold such demonstrations without being chased off campus by an angry mob.
So what should SOUL do? One clear step is to tone down the rhetoric and the extremism. Whether you feel the Christmas photo was offensive or not, all reasonable people can agree it was not tantamount to slavery or the purchasing of slaves. The next step might be holding open discussions and forums rather than inflammatory demonstrations. A crucial step might be inviting conservative leaning groups to these discussions and ensuring the conversation remains civil and fact-based — perhaps by inviting a professor or administrator to moderate. As conservatives on campus, we know how incredibly intimidating it can be to go to an “open discussion” that will be anything but for someone on our side of the political spectrum. For those who disagree with SOUL, the responsibility then falls to us to attend such forums and state our views intelligently.
Overall, SOUL has not been a boon to constructive dialogue on this campus. It has alienated many, who would otherwise be willing to engage in meaningful discourse, through its aggressive and extreme tactics. Instead of catalyzing exploration of racial issues and struggles, SOUL has damaged the environment for debate, unfairly portraying many on the other side of the debate. Its members have consistently shown that they are unwilling to even listen to an opposing viewpoint, most recently by rejecting those who approached them on Friday to calmly discuss the supposed grievance. When SOUL is ready to sit down and have productive discourse rather than see who can shout the loudest or make the most talked about demonstration, they will have lived up to their mission. Until then, it betrays the spirit of true progressive discourse and resolution of conflict at every turn, hurting the causes it seeks to advance.
DILLON WEBER is an Engineering junior studying chemical & biomolecular engineering and economics. His email address is email@example.com.
AIDAN MCCONNELL is a College junior studying political science. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.Comments powered by Disqus
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