Letter to the Editor: MU graduate argues that hunger striking is unreasonable strategy
The strategy has potential for more future harm than any possible good.
Nov. 04, 2015
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To Jonathan Butler and the larger MU student body,
I’m a University of Missouri alumni and fellow graduate student, albeit currently at a different university. I want to initially point out that I respect the intestinal fortitude to announce a hunger strike; that decision (I can only assume) takes a huge amount of courage and a larger level of commitment. That said, soon (I suspect) any supporter of your announcement will disregard everything here following, and conversely, any critic or your announcement will immediately support everything here following. I think you are going about this in a misguided way. To be perfectly clear, I am not and will not in this letter, be referring to any perceived conflicts within the MU community to which your open letter refers. I hope that last sentence reads as clear and sounds as unbiased as it is here intended. I do not think a hunger strike is a reasonable method to achieve any positive outcome.To start, I think you are putting the UM System, at large, in a very difficult position for a different reason than you intend. If Mr. Wolfe resigns, due to this hunger strike, it sets forth a highly dangerous precedent of the means to enact a change. If it’s a success it opens the door to future actions of the same for any cause, good or bad. A future student can likewise declare it is either their life lost or a change, seeing that it has worked in the past (with you, Jonathan, being the potential example) and they go about doing the same. Here is the crux of this: It opens the potential to demand virtually any change (even objectively negative change) or face a student death. A student can threaten self-harm or suicide (a harsh reality of the current announcement) with this history of (potential) success to demand any outcome. Any outcome: different dining hall food, cheaper tuition, the resigning of a professor, or even an all-white campus (an objectively negative change mentioned). The powers that be then, whether they be Gov. Nixon or other administrative officials, are then forced to choose between accepting the demand (for better or worse) or having a student take their own life. Further, this incredibly difficult decision would have to be made in the ultimate of timely manners, when you or a future student(s), can no longer go on without sustenance. The precedent of a hunger strike or any other threat of self-harm, while I know you yourself are superbly well intentioned, sets a precedent to similar acts where others may simply not be as well intentioned and seek outlandish or again, objectively negative outcomes. To illustrate this idea of precedence further in a stark way, what if another student announces a hunger strike (or other self-harm) if Mr. Wolfe does resign? Then what outcome could be expected? What and how could anyone possibly take action one way or another at such ultimately high competing costs? There simply needs to be a better way to enact the changes you seek. The potential for a snowball effect so to speak, with your announcement, in my eyes puts the university at the potential for more future harm than any possible good. This well-intentioned writer suggests rather the way to go about the changes you seek is from the bottom upward. To state first though, any person who perpetuates intolerance of any kind based on such ignorant beliefs (examples in your letter) is simply wrong. As a fact. That said, positive change and tolerance should not have to come from any level higher than that of the student. I would encourage you to actively motivate your bright and well-intentioned peers, and the student body at large, to stand up to any such intolerance. Any comment or action denoting hatred of another, based on any such superficial and incredibly wrongheaded belief, should be swiftly rejected in that moment on the personal level. As an illustration of the importance of this bottom up action, I would bet everything I own that the person who drew the swastika (as an example) gave no thought to Mr. Wolfe at that time whatsoever. Further, Mr. Wolfe’s potential resignation simply will not solve each problem of intolerance to come. A larger cultural change toward total and complete acceptance must take place. Positive change needs to be rooted in the individual heart and directed at the student body before all else.
I sincerely hope that the courage and commitment you have so clearly demonstrated in your announcement can likewise be demonstrated in a change of your current decision to actively make a change at the level it truly matters.
Sincerely, Will Felton email@example.com