A Call for a More Inclusive Movement

By Guest Contributor

I love Middlebury, but, despite all its beauty and opportunity, I am constantly disappointed in the culture of debate on campus. Daily, we engage in identity politics, doing nothing to further the conversation surrounding issues of importance like race or gender-based discrimination. Instead, through our characterization of whites, men and the privileged as the enemy, we discourage people who might have otherwise been valuable allies from joining the cause at all. We have confused activism with conflict and conversation with vitriol.

I was first faced with this reality about a month into my first year last year. A friend and I were getting ready to go on a bike ride to Breadloaf when, realizing our tires were low on air, we headed to the campus bike shop near ADK. We were turned away at the door: it was Women’s Wednesday. Clarifying that all we wanted to do was quickly use the pump in the corner of the shop, we unsuccessfully petitioned for an exception.

My FYC seemed utterly unfazed when I told him what had happened. He and his colleague tried to assuage my concern, assuring me that “every other day of the week belonged to men [like me].” That is simply not true. On the other six days of the week, the bike store is open to both men and women. There is no Man’s Monday or Tommy’s Tuesday and I don’t want there to be.

In the Jan. 24 edition of the Campus, Sam Kaufman ‘12.5 published a column titled “What I’ve Learned About Feminism at Middlebury: A Manifesto of Sorts.” In a last hurrah before graduating, she sought to “rally the base” and kickstart a new and broader feminist movement on campus. For all I know the base was rallied. I, on the other hand, was just left angry. Her manifesto was all too representative of Middlebury’s style of activism. From her use of catchwords like “bro,” “economics” and “ADP,” to her condescending assumption that “white,” “heterosexual” and “privileged” men would have stopped reading before her penultimate paragraph, she did nothing to convince me I should join the cause. In fact, she made me feel that as a privileged-white-male-economics major, I was anything but welcome amongst those who fight for equality.

We probably all know that economics is the study of prices and choices. What many on this campus often fail to recognize is that economics is equality’s best friend. Economics helps us to understand extremely complex and multidimensional relationships from employer-employee interaction to the decisions made before choosing whether or not to wear a condom. Take these examples from our own economics department. Assistant Professor of Economic Erick Gong is researching the effect of HIV testing on the behavior of those individuals who are tested. He wants to better understand the relationship between being deemed HIV positive or negative and the riskiness of one’s subsequent actions. Assistant Professor of Economics Caitlin Myers has used econometric models to research issues related to gender-discrimination as well as reproductive rights, health and access.

It is easy to dismiss students of economics as ruthless pre-Wall Street types whose only concern is making that six-figure salary and spending July on Nantucket, but that would be both unfair and false. There is nothing wrong with wanting to go into business. Without business we wouldn’t be able to Skype with our parents after class or get on a $5 Megabus to Boston to visit friends from high school. Business has lifted millions out of poverty in India and China and made Insulin available to those with diabetes. Economists are concerned with far more than just profit, and it is time students on this campus understood that.

There are five female students out of 25 in my economics class. I wish that number were two, three times higher, but so-called feminists like Kaufman have created a culture wherein economics is synonymous with male-dominance. It is truly a shame, but a social barrier to entry has arisen, impeding women who might be interested in studying economics from actually doing so. A false and manufactured perception of discrimination sits like a dark cloud over the department. In a similar way, white men are dissuaded from entering the debate on race and gender relations. In this case, however, the perception of unwelcome is anything but fabricated.

I believe in equal rights for all. Gay or straight, male or female, Cowboys fan or Giants fan, I don’t care. I think the 14th amendment was ratified 77 years too late, but I cannot call myself a feminist. Even though I probably believe in every one of them, I cannot join most of the liberal activist movements on this campus because I cannot bear to be treated like the enemy for the simple fact that I was born privileged, white and male.

The greatest accomplishment of Middlebury liberals has been removing me from their ranks. I am a member of the Democratic Party and I want the Paycheck Fairness Act to pass and the Defense of Marriage Act to be repealed, but I cannot identify with many left-wing elements on this campus. They discount me by the simple fact of my birth, but who I am won’t change. I’m white, privileged and male, but I don’t feel uncomfortable with or ashamed of it. As for my major, that’s a choice I made and the prices were mine to weigh.

Written by NATHAN WEIL ’15 of Geneva, Switzerland

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