A break from the blog. That's what I needed--some time to think things over. Now that I've mulled over some possibly blog-worthy material, it is time to "puke it forth" as the good reverend puts it.
The first topic that I will spew about is ripples. Who hasn't thrown a rock into a puddle or pond and watched as the circular waves spread out to the farthest extremity of the water? I have--and the image is a good metaphor for what has happened recently in my life as a grad student at Clark University.
I posted some cartoons in my lab windows a while back. Among the Dilberts and Foxtrots were some political cartoons. Some of the cartoons addressed the topic of same-sex marriage, some even about the situation here in Massachusetts.
Now, the primary reason for my posting these cartoons was that I thought they were funny. I didn't know that I was throwing rocks.
The cartoons had been up for several months before the first ripple appeared--a student approached me and tearfully asked how I could put such hurtful material in my window.
I had to step back and think about how the cartoons could be taken in that way. I didn't have long to think--another ripple came early the next morning in the form of two professors who met first with my advisor and then asked to speak with me to discuss the cartoons and the bruised feelings of the students.
Although I did not think that anyone should be offended by the cartoons, I took them down. It wasn't until the papers were piled on my desk that I began to sense more of my purpose for posting the cartoons, and while I felt bad for the students who might have been offended, and I felt worse for me because it seemed to me that I was being singled out for discrimination because of my political views. Still, it was hard to really get mad when I considered that the allegedly maligned students might have experienced the same feeling when they saw the cartoons that I had posted.
The next ripple was a meeting with the Dean of Students and some of the people on campus involved with the gay-rights movement. As we spoke of how we could see eye to eye, we actually started to consciously make more ripples. In January, we began planning a forum where students could come and listen to some panelists speak on the topic of marriage and then ask questions.
The first ripples to make it off of campus were invitations to various community members and activists to come and sit on our panel. I invited our stake patriarch, a humble and selfless man that used to be in same congregation as my family, to come and participate. After some persuasion and consideration, he took me up on my offer.
The ripples really started expanding, however, once the forum was announced on the faculty listserv by a professor on the planning committee. There is a large part of the faculty, apparently, that cannot believe that same-sex marriage is an issue and these professors were floored when arguments were made for the protection of traditional marriage. The debate quickly became heated with such comments such as "gender should not make a difference" and "[same-sex marriage] is a very harmful thing." The argumentative emails are still being sent back and forth about same-sex marriage, gay-rights, and protection of the family. If the sheer volume of emails contributed to the argument and the prestige of the various professors contributing (tenured professors and department heads zinging each other) had not astounded me, then the uncivil tone that is so prevalent would have made my jaw drop. The antipathy in some of the posts was so brazenly transparent that two faculty members brought up the subject of the listserv phenomenon with me in their incredulity over the situation.
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The night of the forum arrived, and the panelists entered the hall in the University Commons at Clark. There was a lawyer, a historian, a pastor, a reverend (the one quoted above), a spokesperson for the Massachusetts Family Institute, and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Dean of Students handed each of the panelists a check for two hundred dollars--a small stipend to acknowledge Clark University's gratitude for their participation. After everyone got settled, the panelists each presented their various ideas and opinions--most of them were dreadfully long-winded--and the evening was wrapped up with a short "question and answer" session. I have to say that there was really only one question, and that the rest of the people who stepped up to the microphone did so only to say that they supported a certain side of the same-sex marriage argument and then got into their life history.
I am quite biased, but have to say that the gentleman from my church had the best presentation. He enlisted my wife and me to pass out "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" to all those in attendance. That was the best ripple for me--a member of my church at the microphone speaking about latter-day apostles and prophets and challenging the Clark community to get the facts straight from the source of all truth.
It probably doesn't take too much imagination to divine how the evening ended. The discussion was most intense between the Universalist pastor and the lawyer, who could not agree on legal precedent for a popular vote that would decide the rights that might be denied a minority group. No punches were thrown, however, and I think everyone even shook hands afterwards.
My biggest disappointment concerning the forum was that it was so poorly attended. If the stipends had been paid by a pool taken from the attendees, everyone would have needed to chip in twenty bucks. I was consoled a little however, when I noticed another ripple--two related articles in the school paper following the forum. One article gave an inadequate and skewed account of the forum, and the other was an opinion piece on same-sex marriage legislation in New England.
A summary of the local ripple effects:
- There have been about six meetings between various professors, staff, administration, and students that I have attended.
- The university, besides the money for man-hours covered to organize the forum and various fees to have the function hall ready and staffed, shelled out $1,200 to the panelists.
- Many members of the Clark community attended the forum or have read coverage of the event.
- Discussion on the topic of same-sex marriage and its legal and moral aspects has increased across campus.
And all these "ripples" happened because I put up a few cartoons in my laboratory window.
The ripples are unstoppable, and they continue to spread out. I think that they are starting to merge with ripples that others have started in their own spheres. I am already planning to make waves again, and am excited at the prospect of seeing more discussion come about as a result of my (now) targeted and intentional actions to draw attention to the same-sex marriage debate.