How is the Dorm Community Managing?

By Peter Bloch

As the story of the Sophomore Cultural event unfolds, the plot thickens. But many are concerned about the wellbeing of all students involved, and how this has impacted the dorm community on the whole.

If you are currently unaware of what’s going on, I highly recommend you first read Nicholas C. ‘19s piece and Vy N. ‘21s piece on what’s happening.

Mao with American Flags

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to OES’ Director of Residential Life, Sarah Grenert-Funk, to see what she had to say on the matter. From the start, Sarah really had her hands tied, as she is just coming back from maternity leave, and is really trying to make sure that everyone feels safe. However, she was able to provide some valuable insight into the current state of the dormitories.

Beginning immediately after the announcement, there were many dorm and day students alike who expressed their dissatisfaction with the statement. But what Sarah urges us to consider is that, “It’s easy for us as dominant culture to cast judgement coming from our cultural point of view. What it means to even speak out politically as Americans is really different.” But the image of Mao Zedong that Americans have is so radically different than what the international Chinese students do.

In Nick’s article as mentioned before, many of the Chinese community considers Mao to be a hero, creator of China as they know it, or savior from Western imperialism. But goes without saying that the OES dormitories are a multicultural community in and of itself, so as Sarah put it, “Even to call it two factions or sides is an oversimplification. It’s hard to see all the shades of grey with this situation.” Other international students have voiced that they were not comfortable standing for the announcement because Chinese image of Mao Zedong is censored, and that only in America can these discussions be had.

It’s also worth pointing out that America has always had its fair share of controversial figures, even world leaders as well. For the early part of American history, many of our Presidents were savage racists and slave owners. Yet we often look past this to their great achievements in nation-wide reform and military prowess (I’m not justifying the actions of Mao Zedong, merely illustrating how Western culture is also guilty of censorship).

It’s also important to recognize that on all sides of this issue, people are hurt. And to that end, Sarah reminds us that “Everyone recognizes that there will be elements of the curriculum that don’t align with their personal values. The philosophy of inquiry and exploration allows for a level forgiveness.”

Sarah concluded by saying, “Ultimately, I’m happy that they have a voice and feel confident that they can speak and express themselves,” and I agree. It’s no surprise that there is a divide between dorm and day students, but the Sophomore Cultural event has illustrated that we can all learn from our cultural differences. Hopefully, we can keep this conversation going as Sarah mentioned, so that we can unite as an OES community.