Ostrum to Marcon: Let’s work toward inclusion

Student voices his concerns and reaches out to Chair of the Board of Trustees, Michael Marcon

Jordan Ostrum

joostrum@ursinus.edu

 

This summer, I learned of the change in the Chair of the Board of Trustees for Ursinus College. I knew Alan Novak was stepping down, but I was shocked that so little was being made of such a big transition of power. Turning to Twitter, I tried to learn more about the man who would represent our school at one of the highest levels. What I read there shocked me so much I shared some of his tweets online, and spread them throughout Olin Hall. Mr. Michael Marcon: I don’t care if you like Bruce Springsteen. I’m here to address the rest of your tweets. Because if I were to greet my female employer with a friendly “hello!” for 98 days, and then for less than two days I were to tell her to #stfu (an acronym which the Grizzly won’t spell out but that you can casually tweet) I can assure you that she would feel much more than “discomfort.” She would feel disrespected, disturbed, and would demand for either a real apology or my dismissal.

Allow me, in fact, to edit your phrasing that your tweets “may have caused certain readers discomfort.” When a female student reads that “only 10% of users should be wearing yoga pants,” what message do you think that sends about the autonomy women should have over their own bodies? When you retweet a joke that trivializes Caitlyn Jenner’s transition, how do you think that makes my transgender friends feel about their body dysphoria, depression, and fears of social ostracization? When you tweet about—after becoming the college’s chair of the board of trustees—your dissatisfaction with the “command of the English language” that certain flight announcers have, do you think that bodes well with the students whose non-native parents still, to paraphrase the Diversity Monologue of a friend, are cut like glass by the English language?

The people impacted by your public actions—so public I could access them without a Twitter account—are not just “certain readers.” They are students, faculty, and staff, they are members of the Ursinus community, they are human beings who can’t walk down Main Street without being cat-called because of their gender, or who can’t go on Yik Yak without being called a monkey because of their race, or who already feel fat enough without reminders from anyone else and who occasionally starve themselves because of eating disorders.

The reactions to your tweets come from a place of valid concern by students over the administration’s priorities. These reactions come from fears that this institution cares more about its prospective students than its current students, that it allocates more resources towards perfecting its image than improving its reality, that its administrators invest more in the enrollment and endowment of the white, the wealthy, and the already understood than in the environment and education of the black, the brown, the poor, and the voiceless.

Mr. Marcon, I’ve never met you. I cannot emphasize enough that this not a personal attack against you. I gather from your Twitter that we both find the TSA annoying, and both of our families mean the world to us. I donate my time to this school for the same reason you donate yours—we love Ursinus. We are Bears through and through.

But loving Ursinus means loving all of Ursinus, not just segments of the population with whom you intrinsically identify or already understand. If you are truly committed to actionable conversations about diversity—and I have reason to believe you may not be—then show it.

Dedicate the time to learn about and confront the real issues that make students less safe. I have too many friends who were raped. I have too many friends who self-harm. I have too many friends who go through each day already feeling targeted enough—for their skin tone, their body type, or their socioeconomic class. They don’t need an administrator who echoes those insensitivities.

We need leadership with compassion. We need a top-down investment in expanding students’ engagement with whiteness, structural racism, and colorism. We need a better understanding at the administrator’s level of micro aggressions. No, it’s not just us being PC police or coddled millennials. As students, our perspectives on these issues matter, and freedom of speech includes the right to critique and call for direct action against a repeated disregard for those who are different.

You, more than any single one of us students, have the power and authority to change this school. We have the right to not only ask questions, but demand answers from you. If, as Active Minds states, 1 in 4 adults have a diagnosable mental illness, then why does our Wellness Center have only 4 counselors for 1600 students? If, as the Justice Department states, 1 in 5 female undergraduates experience sexual assault, then what precise measures are you and the president of this school taking to prevent rape and support survivors?

Mr. Marcon, I’ve never met you. But I’d like that to change. I’m a senior whose fight for greater justice and respect for all peoples comes from a long-present passion. You’re the Chair of the Board of Trustees whose commitment to the same must come, if nowhere else, from your job description.

Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat aside, let’s meet in person. Let’s learn from each other and develop a plan of action for bettering our school. Let’s both make this our legacy.