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Old Gold & Black

Old Gold & Black

Title: Gender Equality Committee and contributors respond to letter from Jesse Crimm ’67 printed in the Nov. 1, 2016 issue


We, a group of students and faculty at Wofford College, would like to respond to the recent letter to the Editor written by Jesse Crimm, a Wofford alum. He sent his letter after reading the Oct. 18 issue of the Old Gold and Black. While we acknowledge the writer’s concerns, we would like to explain that what he calls “exclusionary” practices of political correctness are, in fact, practices that are inclusionary- practices that ensure the alumni of tomorrow look back with fondness and kindness upon a Wofford that welcomed everyone and helped them succeed.

Over the years, Wofford students have founded numerous organizations to improve the level of inclusivity on Wofford’s campus. The creation of these organizations has come from a desire to respect, include and empathize with our peers. Our college was founded in a way that reflected the social norms of the time and was thus based on exclusivity – it began as an institution solely for white males. Desegregation at Wofford began in 1964. Residential coeducation at Wofford began in 1980. Thus, the Wofford Crimm knew was not diverse in either race or gender. We think that the way diversity has evolved at Wofford has vastly improved our institution. Today, Wofford is the most innovative, creative and visionary it has ever been, largely, we believe, due to its increasingly diverse population.

We recognize that Wofford has come a long way since the 1960s. However, there is still work to be done both here and in our larger community. We have seen our peers mistreated, excluded and ignored due to their gender, race, socio-economic background, religion, sexual orientation and more. We feel compelled to help ameliorate these issues, on either a group or individual level, which, to the Gender Equality Committee in particular, means providing opportunities to discuss issues we face and support each other in overcoming them.

We will address the letter’s specific concerns point by point:

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Crimm first criticizes Wofford for “[spurning] its Methodist heritage and [endorsing] promiscuity” by running a paid advertisement in the Old Gold and Black for an IUD, a form of birth control. We would first like to mention that most forms of female birth control, including the hormonal IUD, do more than prevent pregnancy. Many girls and women use hormonal birth control to do just that – control hormones. Hormonal birth control can be used to prevent pregnancy, but its other significant purposes include regulating periods, lessening menstrual cramps, diminishing migraines, reducing acne and more. Lamenting contraception because it “endorses promiscuity” also ignores the fact that many students choose to have sex without taking any form of birth control into consideration – sexual activity exists on campus with or without birth control or paid ads in the Old Gold and Black.

It’s also worth noting that the U.S. government has deemed 18-year-old citizens, a group referred to by the writer as “teenage freshman,” responsible enough to vote, to purchase tobacco products, to work full-time, to apply for loans and credit cards, to get married, to be charged as an adult in a court of law and to go to war. Thus, we feel it is illogical to suggest that college students are not old enough to have autonomy over their own bodies, sexual activity and choices on birth control.

He goes on to claim that gender equality does not exist. Perhaps he meant to say that gender equality cannot exist, but regardless, we agree: true gender equality does not currently exist. Today, women still confront domestic violence and sexual assault, unequal pay for equal work, sex-based discrimination and much more. This doesn’t even cover global issues of gender inequality such as bride burnings, honor killings, female genital cutting and sex trafficking.

We agree that some topics relating to gender inequality have “already been addressed in practice and statute.” There is an ongoing national conversation about these topics, laws have been proposed to solve these problems and some of these laws have been ratified. Over the years, women have gained the rights to own property, vote, receive equal pay and make decisions about their own reproductive health, among other things. While these issues may have been addressed in some statutes, it is clear that they have not always been addressed in practice. Despite the Equal Pay Act, white women in the U.S. still receive only 78 cents compared to every full dollar that a white man earns for doing the same work. The disparity is greater between white men and non-white women. Despite Roe v. Wade, it is still illegal in many states for women to have autonomy over their reproductive system. Despite the Violence Against Women Act, domestic violence is still one of the leading causes of death for women. In fact, South Carolina ranks first in the nation for just that.

Crimm makes reference to what he regards as limitations in female physical strength. In response, we quote a young, healthy male professor from Wofford: “I’m a man who is wildly incapable of ‘toting a 70 pound backpack’ while leading ‘a platoon through desert or jungle terrain,’ but I know many women who could.” We understand concern over women entering the military. However, if a woman passes the required physical tests, her gender is an arbitrary factor.

He then proceeds to discuss the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. There are many misconceptions about the purpose and definition of BLM, and an effective way to explain it is by analogy: Nobody goes to a Breast Cancer Awareness event to protest the lack of representation of other cancers. The Black Lives Matter movement doesn’t negate the importance of other races. It has an implicit “too” at the end.

Dr. Kathryn Marsden, adjunct professor of history, expressed that while reading the writer’s comments on BLM, she saw “a reminder that fellow black Americans are suffering inordinately from stereotypes that associate them with criminality and violence,” a stereotype that Crimm enforces by mentioning black on black crime, drugs and absent fathers. The statistic the author mentions neglects to acknowledge that black on black crime happens at almost the same rate as what we might call “white on white crime.”

Black Lives Matter expresses “ire against” police, not for merely enforcing the law but because the rate of black deaths at the hands of police officers is four times higher than white deaths at the hands of police. Unarmed black men are five times more likely to be shot by police than white men are. The “root issue” the writer mentions is an often unconscious disregard for black lives based on learned biases. Wofford students held a Black Lives Matter event because we want our black peers to know that their lives matter just as much as the lives of all other students and staff on campus. Supporting Black Lives Matter is by definition an inclusive practice.

Crimm’s letter explains his perceived examples of how “Wofford has sunk into the seductive morass of political correctness.” We think he has a basic misconception about the definition of political correctness. Wofford’s commitment to diversity and inclusion exposes us, both students and faculty, to new opinions and ideas every day. As Dr. Carey Voeller and Dr. James Neighbors, both of the English department, express, this educational environment of varied faiths, races, genders, sexualities and socioeconomic backgrounds epitomizes the liberal arts education and Wofford’s Methodist heritage – we operate on humanism, pluralism and inclusion. Dr. Marsden says, “What Mr. Crimm calls ‘political correctness’ is simply recognizing and appreciating our common humanity.” Another professor noted, “Political correctness is about acknowledging a person’s humanity instead of reducing someone to a perceived difference.”

The reason we all decided to learn or teach at Wofford is because we take pride in being an inclusive community that encourages discussion of controversial issues that some people might find offensive. Uncomfortable conversations, both around campus and in the classroom, promote growth. We are proud of the fact that Wofford can host a Trump rally as well as a Black Lives Matter vigil. In an email President Samhat sent out to the campus community a year ago, he said that diverse events such as these demonstrate “that we are a community that values differences, even when those differences may be distasteful to some of us. All of these events bring to our community a variety of experiences and viewpoints from which to learn and be informed.”

Change is necessary for societal evolution, but it’s often hard, uncomfortable and unfamiliar. The process of change has been happening here since the 1960s, and over the years, Wofford has grown into a community that welcomes people of different races, genders and faiths, to name just a few characteristics. Had it not, most of us would not be at Wofford today. To continue Wofford’s growth, we have supported new movements, organizations and events. Thus, we write to implore Mr. Crimm, anyone who relates to his sentiments and all fellow students, faculty and alumni to help cultivate an inclusive and welcoming atmosphere which we believe is ultimately in the best interests of Wofford as it grows into the 21st century.

Written by Meghan Curran ’19 and Caroline Traini ’19, co-founders and co-presidents of the Gender Equality Committee, with contributions and support from Dr. Kathryn Marsden, Dr. Carey Voeller, Dr. James Neighbors, Dr. Courtney Dorroll, Dr. Phil Dorroll, Professor George Singleton, Dr. Charlotte Knotts-Zides, Dr. Anne Catlla, Dr. Laura Barbas-Rhoden, Dr. Christine Dinkins, Dr. Catherine Schmitz, Rev. Dr. Ron Robinson, Dr. Nancy Williams, Dr. Kimberly Rostan and the Gender Equality Committee

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  • G

    Gregory PlemmonsNov 16, 2016 at 8:28 am

    As a former editor of the OG & B (’86) this makes me proud and fills me with hope, especially after the events of last week. Your generation has so many more challenges before it, but especially the role of free speech and free press will be more important than ever in the weeks and months to come. Stay involved. Keep informed. Remain a lifelong student of the world. Our country needs this more than ever.

  • I

    Ingrid LesemannNov 15, 2016 at 11:00 pm

    Proud alum here! <3

  • B

    Bates Redwine '89Nov 15, 2016 at 2:59 pm

    Congratulations on a well-crafted and thoughtful reply. Allowing the safe expression of diverse opinions is an important way to encourage critical thinking. I’m proud to see this in the Old Gold & Black.

  • D

    Dr. Marion E. Wilson '92Nov 15, 2016 at 1:25 pm

    Well done! This represents what I love and value about a liberal arts education.