Last week, Active Minds’ “Send Silence Packing” event was prominently displayed on the Academic Quad, engaging passersby and sparking mixed feelings and reactions from students — from resonance to mild interest to disagreement. Many felt that the event’s central location on campus was effective; others felt like it was inescapable and an overly performative take on an incredibly sensitive issue. As we sat as an editorial board Sunday night trying to come up with a cohesive stance, we found ourselves divided. Some of us agreed that the installation was upsetting. Others said that such discussions are meant to be profoundly uncomfortable and disturbing in order to raise awareness. What we did agree on is that the lack of campus consensus on these particular installations highlighted a greater need for reflective dialogue after prominent campus-wide events.
In the past, the campus community has often gathered together in Choi Auditorium to participate in Town Hall-style discussions. These opportunities for dialogue have been useful for some, but they have almost always been reactionary — institutional bandaids in response to campus uproar on events like the AGC Occupation of Fall 2015 or grievances with Residential Education (Res Ed). Rarely are these spaces for discussion produced out of anything other than campus-wide conflicts. Yet, so often what’s lacking from events similar in tone to that of Active Minds is exactly that: a pre-arranged time and place to discuss, decompress and listen to the opinions of others.
In addition to providing room to discuss, these intentional spaces would help organizations reach larger audiences. While it is easy to put on a free T-shirt or read a biography on a backpack and walk away, Occidental students must hold each other accountable to engage with these demonstrations beyond the few of hours allotted for the event. We must incorporate compassion and responsibility in our private actions, not just in our public ones. Sexual assault survivor advocacy and suicide awareness and prevention are not for show. They are not temporary. When the backpacks are taken down, our student body will still be impacted every day by depression and suicide. It is the responsibility of students to engage in discussions in response to these installations. Integrating spaces for reflection into the nature of these events will invite a wider range of students into the conversation; Active Minds took a step forward by inviting all students to their Tuesday meeting to debrief, and other organizations should follow in their footsteps. We, as a community, should show up.
“Send Silence Packing” got a lot of attention, and that is important. But, more importantly, these events should start hard conversations and inspire real changes within our student body. Hopefully, they will stick with us and remind us that kindness, compassion and working for the “greater good” are not spectacles, but rather, opportunities to engage more deeply with difficult topics.