By Eli Sherlock
John F. Kennedy once said, “Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer.” Easier said than done, Mr. President. The school year thus far has been politically charged, to say the least. From the Presidential Election to the decision on Meatless Mondays, there have been quite a few conflicting opinions on campus. Normally this is fine; as a liberal arts college, St. Mary’s (and its students) prides itself on keeping an open mind and not judging anyone for their opinions. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case across campus.
All over St. Mary’s there is a growing concern about a general lack of respect for political ideologies. Many students have felt like they have been harassed or singled out because of their political association, even from some teachers. St. Mary’s is generally considered a “liberal” college, but both sides of the board have felt aggression towards them. According to a few students who wish to remain anonymous, for instance, bumper stickers supporting both candidates were repeatedly ripped off of cars during the Presidential Election. A lack of acceptance regarding any viewpoint is problematic at a college which prides itself on acceptance, and the newly formed Rostra Club plans to address such concerns.
The brainchild of students senior Margaret Lillie, sophomore Michelle DiMenna, senior Jonathan Weber, and junior Elie Keesler, the idea started when Lillie brought up the lack of political respect around the election time. “Even if you disagree with somebody, there are ways to talk or even debate in a respectful manner,” says DiMenna, and that’s exactly why Rostra has been formed: to find ways to talk or debate without offending anyone.
The first meeting was held on Wednesday, Jan. 23 to see if other students felt the same way, and ultimately see what could be done about it. With over 20 students attending the meeting in the ARC Conference Room, the small room felt packed in more ways than one. Students of all different political beliefs showed up, and, astonishingly, no one got into an argument while discussing those topics which had been the subjects of contention for far too long.
The meeting was mainly an introduction to the club, to explain the purpose behind it and get input from the students on what they wanted to get out of it. Some wanted to hear from professors on different topics (an idea which, the founders state, several professors have expressed interest in); others wanted to hear different takes on current events, and some even wanted open-minded debates. Everyone in attendance agreed, however, that political insensitivity is a problem on campus which needs to be addressed soon, and Rostra seems just the club to do it.
The Forum Romanum of Ancient Rome was, in its time, the center for marketplace transactions, public trials, political activity and general public speaking. In this time, the main method of addressing the public was through the Rostra. Although one could preach on the Rostra about any variety of subjects, its main associations were with judicial matters and politics, and for this reason the Rostra is associated with free speaking and political awareness. The Rostra Club is aptly named after this Ancient Roman platform because they share the same purpose – to spread open mindedness and political knowledge for all. Stay tuned for updates on the time and place of meetings – with an emphasis on bipartisanship and respect, the Rostra Club will have something there for anyone willing to learn in an accepting environment.