During the preparations for the recent bonfire, there was significant debate in the student body concerning the decision not to burn the effigies that had been included in the bonfire the previous year. The rationale given for the decision was that the burning of effigies offended certain members of the community because of the ugly racial and ethnic histories associated with effigy burning. The Board does not want to take a side in this debate because the full extent of the objections that were made and the full rationale for the decision not to burn the effigies are not known. However, the Board feels that the lack of information given about the decision and the failure to consult the student body in a timely and systematic fashion on the decision represents a failure on the part of USG, ODUS and the class councils that were involved in making the decision.
The Board does not mean to criticize the students that objected to the effigies — these objections might have been deeply personal, and the students who made them may have been unwilling to make them in a public forum. However, this should not have prevented USG or the class councils from soliciting other input. As bodies that exist to represent the opinion of the entire student body, USG and the class councils have a responsibility to make an effort to include all opinions in the process. There was ample time to arrange campus focus groups or to conduct an informal poll of the student body on the issue after last year’s bonfire. It is troubling that a USG that constantly promises accessibility and transparency upheld neither of these values during its recent decision-making process.
The lack of transparency about the decision process is also troubling. While the petition that was circulated in response to the decision to remove the effigies was ultimately based on incorrect information, the responsibility for providing this information ultimately belongs to the elected representatives of the student body. Though the student body has delegated some of its decision-making power to them, it does not mean that they are no longer obligated to inform students of the rationale for their choices in a timely and effective fashion.
Fundamentally, the Board thinks it is disappointing that only those voices that spoke the loudest were represented in a decision that affected the entire student body. Those who dissent are often loudest and most visible in debates over campus practice, but this does not mean that those who approve of the status quo do not exist; nor does it mean that their quiet assent is not important. The Board believes the burning of effigies is not such an offensive act that it precludes campus debate on the issue. It is the job of our governing bodies to consider all perspectives, but that cannot happen when no effort is made to reach out to all students.
All of the organizations involved in this decision failed to provide the transparency and accessibility they promised to the student body. This is especially true of those bodies that were elected by the student body and appear to have responded to only the wishes of a vocal minority. The Board recognizes that this event is especially important for the varsity football team and that, consequently, organizers of the event were right to attempt to proactively includerepresentativesoftheAthletic Department andfootball team in the planning process. But this does not preclude our elected representatives from carefully considering the views of the entire student body. As the campus prepares to welcome a new USG administration, we hope that when it comes to future decisions that affect the whole student body, more of an effort will be made to reach out to all students.
Dylan Ackerman is recused due to his position as vice president of 2014 Class Council.
By Lily Offit ’15, Eve Levin ’14, Cara Eckholm ’14 and Brandon Holt ’15
The majority can’t understand the “full rationale for the decision not to burn the effigies,” and it faults our electedrepresentatives' failure to follow a political process. We understand the USG rationale. But bonfiresshould build a sense of community, not threaten it. The symbolism of theactof burning — notwhatwas being burned — was at issue. Think of lynching, guillotining or crucifixion. Such reenactments could be painful to descendants of the recipients of these historical punishments. College communities should discourage behavior perceived as offensive to specific groups. As John F. Kennedy illustrated in "Profiles in Courage," sometimes we entrust elected officials to do the right thing. Here, it’s a question of sensitivity, not procedure.