Talk the talk
Day of Dialogue participants must be careful not to overlook personal responsibility
President Teresa A. Sullivan has invited members of the University and its community to participate in the Day of Dialogue Sept. 24. As President Sullivan states in her mass e-mail, the event "is meant to be the genesis of a dialogue that continues throughout the semester and beyond. It is not intended to be a day for solutions but for questions that will keep us talking. Solutions will come later." This goal of Day of Dialogue is the correct approach on the path to solving problems of violence and bias in our community, but if not done carefully, it could actually hurt progress. We need to downplay the role of administrative policies in violence prevention and increase the role of what we as individuals can do to ensure our own safety.
I see two main reasons why a poorly planned discussion would possibly lead to no, or even negative, change in how we perceive threats similar to those that surrounded Love's death. One reason is that these sorts of events tend to be a one-way street where the administration uses the opportunity to assure the community that they are taking the necessary steps to correct the direction. Granted, this has the benefits of calming a possibly frantic community - and the administration might actually have some plans already in place. But if the Day of Dialogue leads us to believe that someone else - namely the administration - will take care of the issue of violence on Grounds, then we will wrongly absolve ourselves from any personal and communal responsibility.
For instance, current policies that promote responsible drinking actually have the opposite effect because students are able to excuse their behavior. Specifically, Safe Ride might be a good alternative to drunk driving, but it also discourages moderation because people know that no matter how much they drink, there will always be a fallback. If a similar policy arises from Day of Dialogue, we might be heading down the same road with personal safety that we have with drinking. Policies should strive to educate individuals about how to recognize violence and what individuals can do to respond. This is the basis of personal safety and the administration's role should only serve as an extension to this base.
The second problem that might arise from the Day of Dialogue is panic and overreaction. In hindsight, we would like to think that knowing about George Huguely's prior arrest would have lead to his expulsion. Even though an extended rap sheet should call for further investigation, simply getting arrested, even with for a violent crime, is not enough to warrant expulsion. Day of Dialogue should steer clear of using Huguely's case to create a blanket policy for everyone else. Violations of the community of trust should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Some violators may just need to take an anger management class while some might require a harsher sentence. Importantly, we have to remember that in the most severe cases, expulsion is not an effective deterrent. Especially serious violations will result in criminal persecutions that will make any University punishment seem trivial. Thus, the Days of Dialogues should focus on violence prevention and mild punishments and leave major issues to law enforcement.
Anything that results from the Day of Dialogue should stress the need to create an atmosphere that starts with promoting personal responsibility, then loyalty to close friends and family, and then to the community. If we want to decrease violence in our society, we should be aware of our own tempers and violent tendencies, then be aware of these tendencies in other people close to us and get them help. Then we can begin to create a safer community. Many of the current policies regarding the community of trust and personal safety are self-defeating because they address the community before addressing the two more fundamental levels. Safe Ride exempts the rider and rider's friends from needing to plan a safe return or from drinking in moderation. The honor system discourages retractions and peer reports because of single sanction, and if we are not careful, ideas from the Day of Dialogue might only address the problems on the surface without getting to their roots. The community of trust is not some omnipotent creature lurking around to right wrongs. Our community's code of ethics is whatever we construct it to be, and it has as much responsibility as we give to ourselves.
Hung Vu is a columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.