Opinion: Clarion Call

Give us a week, we’ll take off the guilt

Clarion Call No. 202
Unless you have a gift for the absurd,you would be hard pressed to dream up a campus “Awareness Week” that hasn’t already been soberly promulgated somewhere.

Every week on a college campus is an opportunity to commemorate somebody’s pet cause. What are these weeks for? As the name and any promotion will tell you, they are to “promote awareness” of the issue named in the week. Usually that’s it — just the enthymematic “to promote awareness” of the issue.

Can’t college activists complete a syllogism? They don’t need to. Everybody on campus knows that problems stem from ignorance, ergo awareness of them means the problems will soon be solved.

Where in blue blazes did this idea come from? It is an extension of the idea that human beings are perfectible, a seductive notion to the academic, who if he succumbs will believe human beings are perfectible through education. The sinister force in this worldview is ignorance, and all manifestations of evil are therefore ascribed to the nefarious work of ignorance. It’s a view so prevalent on campus that it rarely needs voicing anymore; it’s culturally ingrained.

It’s why people aren’t seen as merely having differences of opinion on campus, but rather moral battles — at least according to the prevailing view. One stands on the side of Good in the world; the other, Evil. Thomas Sowell described it in The Vision of the Anointed (emphasis added):

Those who accept this vision are deemed to be not merely factually correct but morally on a higher plane. Put differently, those who disagree with the prevailing vision are seen as being not merely in error, but in sin. For those who have this vision of the world, the anointed and the benighted do not argue on the same moral plane or play by the same cold rules of logic or evidence. The benighted are to be made “aware,” to have their “consciousness raised,” and the wistful hope is held out that they will “grow.”

There are no 12-step problem-solving programs under this one-step view. Empirics and nuance are tools of the devil. Anything to “raise awareness” works for the forces of Good — no matter how absurd, logically self-defeating, or empirically unsound they seem.

For example, here are just some of the awareness weeks and events from just one month — March — and just at N.C. State and UNC-Chapel Hill:

• Women’s Week 2003, UNC-Chapel Hill, March 22-30. Events included:
— “Breast Casting,” a “3-dimensional work of art made through the skillful application of plaster of paris to a woman’s naked torso” that is “a woman-postive experience that celebrates the female form” — and “promotes awareness about breast health.”
— “Wage Gap Bake Sale,” an “Awareness raising event” selling baked goods “for different prices to women and men to account for the gap in men’s and women’s wages for comparable jobs.”
— “These Hands Project, Clothesline Project … visual presentations which will raise awareness about violence to women.”

• Human Rights Week, N.C. State, March 24-28, held “to promote human rights and its awareness around the world” (Technician, March 28). Events included:
— “Wear[ing] your blue denim (jeans) today to show support for gays and lesbians, and support equal right for ALL people!”
— a symposium on “A Sustainable Future,” where Sister Miriam Therese MacGillis announced that people “alter the basic chemistry, physical structures, geology and physics [sic — even the physics] of the planet without understanding the effects. It is not that human nature is evil or bad but that we are young and inexperienced in the cycle of life.”
— Peggy McIntosh, denouncing a system of white and male privilege in America; “systematic change takes many decades,” she has written (Technician, March 25), but it’s possible “if we raise our daily consciousness on the perquisites of being light skinned.”
— The “Tunnel of Oppression,” which according to N.C. State will give students “a series of sensory experiences related to oppressive situations, … the opportunity to view and dialogue (sic) on various ‘isms’ such as racism, homelessness, sexism, homophobia, and body imagism, and others.”

• Human Rights Week, UNC-Chapel Hill, March 31-April 4. According to The Daily Tar Heel April 1, events included a debate on the United Nations, discussion of human-rights abuses in China, a talk on “the exploitation of Africans in diamond mines versus hip hop’s fascination with diamonds,” and “Genderqueer,” a “discussion about the way people think about their genders and whether people lean toward a particular gender identity or not.” Reena Arora, co-chairman of the Advocates for Human Rights Committee for the Campus Y, said of the week, “I guess, basically, it is to understand the importance of education and awareness.”

• Africa Week, UNC-CH, March 24-29, UNC-CH. Events include African dance workshops, African cuisine sampling, and an African fashion show, and they are sponsored by the Organization for African Students’ Interests and Solidarity, which “is dedicated to spreading awareness to our campus and the surrounding communities about the beauty of African Culture, to dispel stereotypes and myths, and to provide a social atmosphere in which Africans and non Africans can interact and learn from each other.”

• Agricultural Awareness Week, March 17-21, N.C. State. During this week, according to its sponsor, the Alpha Zeta fraternity, “the Brickyard is covered with equipment, livestock, and displays” in order to “promote awareness and appreciation of agriculture on campus.”

• The White Ribbon Campaign, March 24-28, UNC-CH. The DTH of March 24 said campaign chairman Sunil Nagaraj “said this week was about putting peer pressure on men to stop violence against women. … The campaign’s real purpose is to spread awareness, Nagaraj said.”

No wonder a campus humorist at UNC-CH once declared it “Awareness Week Awareness Week.” In the Sept. 4, 2002 DTH, Jim Doggett wrote, “unawareness about awareness week is disturbingly high.” The new freshmen “know almost nothing about our five-day orgies of Pit-sitting and sit-ins, films and fliering, panel discussions and pot-lucks all devoted to celebrating, protesting or lamenting just about anything.”

Doggett’s solution? (Hint: It starts with an “a.”)