Opinion submission: In solidarity with our students

By Timmy Brown | April 17, 2018 5:37pm
Timmy Brown is an adjunct professor at UP. Photo courtesy of Timmy Brown.

On the morning of Tuesday, April 17, I submitted an op-ed to The Beacon regarding the Wally Awards incident. Late in the afternoon, before the op-ed was published, Fr. Poorman sent out a second update to the campus community, one that begins to address some of the issues I raised in my piece. In order to do justice to the information we had when I set fingers to keys, however, I’ve decided to go forward with the original op-ed, unaltered, which follows:

Remember that passage in the Gospels when Jesus finds the money changers in the Temple and shrugs and sits back and does nothing?

Yeah, me neither.

By now we’ve all no doubt read the eloquent op-ed denouncing the misogynistic rant at this year’s Wally Awards. I was not there that evening, so I’d like to address the matter from a slightly different angle.

No, this won’t be a piece excoriating the half-hearted three-sentence “apology,” which reads more like the scribblings of a third grader who hasn’t yet learned how to properly fake sincerity than the statement of a citizen scholar. Nor will I dwell on the predictably tepid damage control email sent out to the UP community midday on Monday.

Instead, a few thoughts from a lowly adjunct instructor.

Due to the nature of our higher education system, instructors often feel uncomfortable addressing controversial issues head-on outside the safety of the classroom. Some might be worried about rocking the boat before that third year review, others of biasing students. We adjuncts often remain silent for fear of retribution lest we not be invited back the following semester. There are indeed times when these cautionary approaches are warranted.

But when it comes to moral urgency, there can be no equivocation. Students need to know — unambiguously — that their instructors have their backs. That we do not condone the objectification of anyone, particularly women. That we too can hear the stentorian silence of inaction and expect answers from the powers that be. That we are constantly striving to improve ourselves as human beings, as we expect our students to be doing.

For indeed we all have room for improvement. Back in 2015, my first year at UP, as I was giving back a quiz, one student who did rather poorly remarked to themselves that they “got raped.” Meaning, apparently, the quiz didn’t go well. The student meant nothing by it; it was a phrase that had been divested of all meaning for them. And so I didn’t say anything, because I assumed I was the only person who heard it. Easy, right?

A mistake, one that kept me up at night, and one I haven’t repeated since.

That hollow “sticks and stones” nonsense from the elementary school playground is a lie. Words do have the power to hurt, a fact we are reminded of daily by the bloviations blowing in from three time zones to the east.

But shouldn’t we expect better of ourselves at the University of Portland, a place we like to portray, sometimes with accuracy, as a university committed to social and economic justice?

As a Catholic, I am particularly troubled by the incongruities we occasionally see here (where, let’s not forget, we’re about three decades behind in recognizing the achievements of a certain Dr. King — a matter for another day). Like it or not, the Catholic Church has an uncomfortable history of misogynistic tendencies, whether by excluding women from the priesthood or finding ever more inventive ways around Colossians 3:18. Isn’t it ironic that women cannot obtain birth control on campus because, according to the health center website, the University “honors the moral teachings of the Catholic Church” — but yet no one can find the mute switch on a mic to silence line after line of the basest kind of prurience?

Yes, we have work to do in the coming years. Many of us — employees, students, parents, community members — are justifiably appalled by what has occurred, incensed that it occurred with tacit approval. Those of you reading this may wonder if by my frankness I have some beef with the University. On the contrary: the campus community is very dear to my heart. It’s a place I love very much, made special by the people who inhabit it. But just as you don’t support a person you love by justifying their dangerous habits, so too you don’t support a place you love by justifying its moral inconsistencies.

Now is not the time — permit me a G-rated sports reference — to throw in the towel. Far from it. We have work to do. Half-hearted apologies aren’t enough. Mumbling a few Our Fathers to atone won’t be enough. Like Christ Himself, it’s time to overturn those tables.

Timmy Brown is an adjunct Mathematics professor at UP and can be reached at brownti@up.edu