It’s no secret that our campus isn’t always a cheery oasis of bustling students whistling as they work. We rarely move from classroom to cafeteria with a hop, skip, and a “Howdy, partner.” Ours is a place where acrimony rules the student council, academic competition trumps academic enrichment, and moderate politics means sitting on the fence. Calls for a friendlier, common-sensical dialogue are often described as dangerous depoliticization. Meanwhile, the lack of a traditionally strong conservative voice on campus has lead to a new publication plastering our hallways with posters that smell more of American-style nationalism than the generally more down-to-earth Canadian patriotism.
All this leads to an atmosphere that has often been termed “cold.” While I have yet to meet a fellow McGillian who I thought to be an outright jerk-face, we cannot deny the lingering, unfriendly vibe that can too regularly be the sum of our parts.
A good way to start changing things is not by simply dropping committee-speak phrases like “conflict resolution,” “open dialogue,” or my personal favourite: “facilitating discussion.” The best way to effect actual change is simply by chilling out. Relax. Your peers, like you, are only students trying to make this place better in a way they see fit. They, like you, constantly see things in a way that makes sense within their pre-existing worldview. There is no reason to freak out when someone else doesn’t see a situation as you do. This isn’t new, and won’t change after university. Get used to it.
I am not suggesting that our councillors, editors, club leaders, etc. all drink chamomile tea and munch oatmeal cookies together, leaving their respective agendas behind. But I am suggesting that it’s quite possible to add “liking, getting along,” and, yes, even “joking” with the other side to each and every agenda. I am willing to bet every A on my transcript that each of our public figures—from a newspaper’s copy editor to the Students’ Society’s president—will have a certain amount of respect, and perhaps awe, for the historical leaders Ghandi and Mandela. Far from pulling these names out of a hat, I see the relevance of their tactics whenever I look at public leadership of any kind. Yet far too often we revere these sorts of figures as vague ideas but cast aside the way they handled their opposition when it comes to our own.
As a campus opinion writer I have the privilege of being idealistic. I realize the nitty-gritty dynamics found within the higher ups of public debate makes this sort of rhetoric seem out of touch. Nevertheless, I urge everyone to remember those models who were able to defy opposition with much skill, without letting the discourse dwindle down to bitter, unproductive, and yes, oh-so-cold words.
McGill is a fine school, but its continued greatness will depend not just on its research output and global prestige, but also on the environment its students are themselves able to create. Is it one in which an outsider can feel welcome? In which he or she can share ideas with confidence, comfort, and even … wait for it … a smile? It should be.
As students, we’ve chosen to attend McGill in order to enrich our own experience and understanding, and bearing a “cold” demeanor is no way to begin.