Ouch, the AMS hurt my feelings!

Is there a limit to how far is too far with being politically correct?

An incident that came to a head this week at Queen’s has made this a serious question.  Over the past few years, Queen’s has become known as a campus that, according to many, is chock full of Islamophobia, white privilege, racism, and bigotry.  I’m not going to deny that the campus is full of incidents that are largely questionable and oppressive, but I do think the way the AMS has been handling complaints leaves something to be desired.  In such a climate, both the University and the student government attempt to quell any potential incidents as soon as possible, often leaving their common sense behind.

At AMS Assembly last week, the executive announced that an event planned for Tuesday March 30, entitled the SUMO SHOWDOWN was to be cancelled due to complaints and an apology had been issued on the AMS website. (check it out here).  The apology rings true, although it is filled with a bunch of terminology that many students will scoff at and likely won’t understand.  However, I understand from a public relations perspective why the AMS had to issue such an apology and stop the event.  Even so, I think the AMS has started down a slippery slope.

(Sumo wrestling costumes, much like those the AMS planned to use.
Photo courtesy of Flickr)

The thing I find most worrisome is a quote from AMS Communications officer Brandon Sloan in the National Post coverage, where he states, “We would never want to host and event that would offend some members”.  Newsflash, AMS.  Every event, every action, every statement is going to offend SOMEONE.  The AMS is setting a dangerous precedent by essentially saying anything that offends is unwanted on campus.  How about exploring toleration?

In my second year philosophy class, we explored the issue of toleration.  The example that sticks out is one of pornography.  We were given a situation involving three individuals: A pornographer, a Muslim man, and an average person who runs a newsstand.  The pornographer relies on pornography for his livelihood.  The average person running the newsstand does not necessarily agree with pornography, but realizes that other people enjoy it, so he sells it anyways.  The Muslim man is deeply offended by the very existence of pornography and has stated that he cannot tolerate its existence.  In fact, he is offended by the very fact that there is a business in his neighborhood that sells pornographic materials, and wants it shut down.

Who must tolerate whom in this situation?  In the case of the AMS, the person who has decided they cannot be contented with merely tolerating a situation that is greatly beneficial to some and insignificant to others, is the winner.  Even if these people would be able to go on in their day-to-day lives knowing that, for example, on Queen’s campus and in many other parts of the world, Sumo costumes are used, their opinions and feelings must prevail.  With this in mind, how far will the AMS go to prevent offence and ignore the idea of toleration?

I wonder if they will prevent the QP from serving green beer on St. Patrick’s day, given that the holiday has been appropriated from the English and turned into a mockery of the struggles of the Irish people.

I wonder if they will have lists of banned words or phrases as an appendix to Bourinot’s Rules to ensure no one who attends Assembly is offended.

I wonder if they will change frosh week to prevent any and all pelvic thrusting, suggestive language, events that prevent those who are not able to participate.

I wonder if they will cut funds to the SHRC and prevent them from holding events because many on campus don’t believe in premarital sex or are offended by homosexuality.  Going even further, the SHRC gets AMS Student fees, some of which go towards their pro-choice abortion accompaniment program, where they send a volunteer to accompany a woman to her abortion.

I wonder if they will cancel Vogue and Rogue.  Just yesterday, the AMS Twitter account advertised that the Vogue Charity Fashion Show committee application deadline had been extended.  Given the backlash that both Vogue and Rogue, a show designed to showcase non-traditional beauty, received, should the AMS refuse to support fashion shows on campus?

Should our student government refuse to support any venture that might possibly prove controversial and, thus, offensive?

The answer is no.  Let the protests happen.  Let people engage in the discussion and debate many of these events are meant to provoke.  Realize that an incident such as the Sumo Showdown is not going to incite an uprising in the student body.  It’s easy to complain, but many are content to just do so and will not go any further.  With this in mind, by all means, try to remain as inclusive as possible.  Just don’t take every instance of ‘offence’ as a means to back down and apologize.

EDIT: If you haven’t read this piece by a former AMS president, then please do. It’s fantastic and says everything I wasn’t able to say.