Conservative Club Meeting Postponed
by Katie Berry on Friday, February 6th, 2015
On the evening of January 19th, an email advertising the meeting of Milton’s Conservative Club was sent to the class conferences. An hour and a half later, another email was circulated by a student urging members of Milton’s cultural clubs to attend the meeting, which would discuss a recent controversial Milton Paper article by Hari Patel (I), “The Ferguson Failure,” among other topics. The next day, the meeting was postponed indefinitely by José Ruiz, Dean of Students.
This one wasn’t the first email that the Conservative Club had sent to the class conferences, but the public reception to it was novel. “I wasn’t surprised. There was already a lot of tension, and [the club] sent it out to the whole school. People were definitely going to respond,” says Sophia Greenaway (III). She adds that the club’s open invitation to “discuss the recent article in [The Milton Paper], the aftermath of the Brown and Garner cases, the larger issues of institutionalized police brutality, and the ways in which our country’s media and institutions of higher education respond to such crises”, as it was described in the email, indeed garnered attention from both administration and students.
“There was buzz,” says Josh Aronson (I). “I was planning to go. My whole history class was talking about it.”
The “buzz” was not, however, the good kind, according to Conservative Club co-head Olivia Bell (I). “It’s important to know that this [meeting] wasn’t supposed to be a forum to force our agenda. I think that’s why there was such a big negative reaction; people assumed that our club is affiliated with Hari Patel (I) and his article,” one that caused the Milton Paper to receive multiple critical letters from students. Olivia goes on to explain, “As conservatives at Milton, we’re very used to not feeling like there’s a place for our beliefs. “We saw a topic that was very much relevant to all the students here, and we decided that we wanted to make a space for dissenting opinions.”
Sophia says that such a conversation was “important,” and Zaria Smalls (I) calls it “necessary.” Mr. Ruiz, the Dean of Students, views this particular conversation as a culmination of months of tension: “Since last year, there’s been a desire to engage in a conversation that actually explores what’s on the mind of students right now.” In the email that postponed the meeting, Ruiz said, “[The conversation] deserves a space and a time that would allow for meaningful dialogue.”
Said space and time are not set in stone. Mr. Ruiz believed that the brief window of time during activities period meeting would make a Tuesday club meeting an inappropriate venue; Zaria agrees, stating, “Because it’s such a small amount of time, people with the loudest voices would say the most.”
Many argue that the original date, January 20th, may have been too soon for an inclusive discussion. “Neither side was going in there expecting a civil conversation… I heard from a lot of people that they were coming prepared with facts, with ammunition. Both sides are very much too heated,” Zaria says. She feels that, moving forward, the center of the discussion should be the race issues at hand, not the details of Hari’s article. “If the school wants to talk about healing and moving forward, we need to firstly recognize that there is no right and wrong in this conversation and secondly, accept that we might walk out of the room without a definitive answer. Most importantly, we have to talk about it systematically, so that people don’t feel that it’s a personalized attack on them.”
Mark Iraheta (I) is a co-head of Onyx and Latino Association, and he sent the email encouraging members of cultural clubs to attend the Conservative Club meeting. He agrees with Zaria, saying, “I really just wanted people to not feel attacked or as if they couldn’t share their opinions on certain topics. People will ultimately always have varying opinions, but having discourse that is open and respectful is key.”
Conservative Club urges that it did not and does not want to facilitate a chaotic, heated argument. “We were hoping individuals would come—not people in groups or clubs, which kind of makes a mob mentality. We recognize that that’s how a lot of things get talked out at this school, however, so for the next meeting, we’ll be reaching out to any cultural clubs that want to participate and inviting them to help lead the discussion,” says Olivia.
One of the current possibilities for the forum is a Straus Dessert-like meeting, “something in the evening with snacks,” according to Mr. Ruiz. It would employ a longer timeframe, a more structured dialogue, and, theoretically, a different tone: “I think Straus Desserts are venues that resonate with students and sort of have an aura about them. Students walk in there with a different mindset.” Although still only an idea, it has been tentatively scheduled for sometime in February.
Mark adds that, regardless of any potential Straus dessert, he “would encourage people to go if they feel so inclined. I think anyone who feels passionately should know that he or she can be a part of the ongoing conversation.”
Short URL: http://miltonmeasure.org/?p=6749