Sorry kids, it’s just me this week. Laura Watkins is off on a supersecret assignment and you wouldn’t believe it if I told you anyway (#hashtagehints #ChineseStockMarket #Lemurs #MalaysianAirlines #GraciousLivingRetirmentCommunity, I’ve already said too much). This week, I’m talking about ODU, Donald Trump, Katrina after ten years, and the National Parks.
Ah, college move-in weekend! When the baby birds finally leave the nest to enter the real world of the pretend-world that is the college experience in America. A time of high spirits and lots and lots of dumb decisions. And then there’s these guys. By now, you’ve no doubt heard about the banners hung at an off-campus house inhabited by members of the Sigma Nu fraternity, welcoming freshmen girls (and their mothers) to what some would call a season of college hijinks, and others a depraved representation of the culture of sexual violence that seems endemic to colleges and universities across the country. Opinion among ODU students, according to the Pilot, is divided.
This falls down neatly into the pre-drawn lines of the culture war battlefield we’ve been on since the 90s, with one side primed to fight the forces of “political correctness” and the other arming against the bro-tatorship that supposedly dominates college campuses (and, like, finance, politics, business, etc etc). Which is a shame, because thousands of women (and men too) are victims of on-campus sexual violence every year, regardless of which side has the most hand-painted signs or yells the loudest. What these victims need are advocates: college administrators willing to treat these offenses like the violent crimes that they are, alumni who will hold their schools accountable for protecting perpetrators before victims, fellow students who will not tolerate the dehumanization of their classmates, and a law enforcement culture that unequivocally treats sexual violence as seriously as comparable crimes.
But let’s back up just a little bit to this particular incident. Based on the Pilot article and some of the other commentary I’ve read on this, it’s important to say what this is not. To start out with, this is not a free speech issue. The students in question all agreed to abide by certain standards of behavior, as members of both the ODU and Sigma Nu communities. If they want to leave those communities and hang banners on their houses sharing their pre-Neanderthal views on sexuality, have at it. But otherwise, communities have rules, and when you break the rules you said you’d abide by, you stand a chance of getting punished. Secondly, this isn’t a boys-will-be-boys joke that can just be laughed off. The problem with treating it that way is that boys have been boys for years, and that’s what’s created the culture of quasi-accepted sexual violence on-campus around the country. Being a boy is not an excuse to break the law. And as far as the law and society are concerned, the “boys” aren’t boys at all—they’re full-grown adult men. It’s wrong to lower our expectations of these men just because they act like boys. My Dad always taught my brothers and me that being a man means you take responsibility for what you do, you respect other people, and you protect people who are vulnerable. I don’t know what standard these boys-who-are-actually-men were raised under, but I find myself deeply disappointed in them.
Juuuuuuuuust kidding. “GOP frontrunner” Donald Trump continues his feud with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly as she returns from a 10-day vacation. He even suggested that his bullying performance following the Fox News GOP circus debate earlier this month was responsible for Kelly’s absence. Fox countered that her vacation had been scheduled for months, but come on, America, a 10-day vacation in August??
It’s been ten years since New Orleans and the Gulf Coast took a direct hit from Hurricane Katrina and we all witnessed, live on television, the effects of inadequate preparation and response in the face of a devastating natural disaster. It’s heartening to read this piece about how people looked out for one another following the disaster, but for those of us who live just a few feet above sea level—which is mostly everyone in this area—it’s also worth reflecting on just how profoundly abandoned the people of New Orleans were by their government at every level. Some of this was due to pure incompetence, but the seeds of the disaster were planted years before, in the city’s inadequate levee system. For a coastal community like Hampton Roads, the lesson learned here is that we have to be advocates for protective technologies that can keep us safe not just now, but for years into the future—and where those technologies don’t yet exist, we need to be at the forefront of developing and testing them. We need to hold our leaders accountable at all levels for their performance when it comes to storm and inundation protection. We need to stop pretending that sea level rise is some kind of political issue and not a demonstrable fact happening outside our front doors. Or, we can do nothing and just let our part of the world slowly slide into the ocean.
But, because I’m not a real pessimist, I need to end on a positive note—today marks the 99th anniversary of the establishment of the National Park Service. Anyone who knows me can tell you a few things about me: I love airplanes; Sometimes I get angry; I love the National Parks. Part of the reason I love them so much is because of the experiences I’ve had in these magnificent places, both with my family and on my own. Part of the reason I love them is the trust that I feel in my fellow citizens to preserve and enjoy these treasures together. Part of it is the knowledge that generations to come will go to the Grand Canyon, or Acadia, or Zion, or Yorktown, or Gettysburg and learn the story of what it is to be an American. All of these come together in the experience of visiting a park, any park. That’s Zion in this picture.
Unlike other countries, we don’t share an ethnicity, language, or even a single cultural background to unite us. We have to be active in coming together on a human level, and the National Parks provide the perfect stage for us to marvel and be in awe of the splendor of our wilderness, and to understand the tragedy and triumph of our history. Spend enough time there and I guarantee you will find your own reason for loving our National Parks. And you’ll understand Teddy Roosevelt’s exhortation, given on the rim of the Grand Canyon, but just as true for any of the parks: “Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.”