Roll Call Still Harmless Fun

Alexandra Reinecke, Editor-in-Chief

I appreciate the willingness of campus community members to voice their opinions by contributing Letters to the Editor of La Puma.

As a senior who has experienced exclusion on campus, I agree wholeheartedly with the spirited concerns about “campus inclusivity” raised in the letter. However, I also believe that rally roll call, the tradition one of our staff writers recently defended, is neither hazing nor a vicious expression of exclusivity.

Might the student body need a lesson in compassion? Sure. But banning rally roll call is neither the appropriate nor the productive measure necessary to curb divisiveness on campus.

I will respond to the concerns raised by the letter 1st by highlighting and countering its rhetorical and logical flaws and 2nd, by clarifying my stance on roll call and my adjacent stance on the issue of bullying.

The authors of the recent letter begin their argument by conceding–“we agree”–that roll call is not, just as we stated in our last issue, an act of bullying. They next highlight 2 articles they believe reveal a schism in our newspaper’s moral stance on bullying: the primary target of their response, “No Disrespect: Rally Roll Call Harmless Fun,” and what they see as its moral opposite, “Cyberbullying Recieves Inadequate Response.”

Some might be confused as to how an entity like a newspaper can hold a moral opinion. But they are right. There are instances in which we–and other newspapers–take a unilateral moral stance as a publication. Support of a political candidate or open rejection of a governmental policy are common examples.

But we didn’t do that in our last issue. And an oversight the authors made was to assume that views held individually by La Puma staff members are those held by La Puma newspaper unilaterally. La Puma did not take a moral stance through either of the two articles; our writers did.

I also disagree with the characterization of the two articles as opposing pillars in a binary argument for and against bullying. While editor Joelle Nelson’s article does take a moral stance against what she sees as administration’s too-soft stance on bullying, nowhere does staff writer Layla Wright defend bullying. She supports roll call, not bullying. In fact, she explicitly draws a contrast between bullying and roll call in her article, writing that while others perceive the tradition of “boos” as “bullying,” she “disagree[s]” with their characterization.

The authors next assert that “the line between bullying and hazing can be subtle.” The line between bullying and hazing can be subtle. But so, too, can that between justice and political correctness at any cost–even at that of placing undue limitations upon our most fundamental American right: freedom of speech. We’ve become misguided in believing that we must limit speech when it may offend.

Believing in the First Amendment doesn’t mean believing in free speech for oneself and those who think and speak in ways one find’s favorable. It means protecting speech of all kinds–even and especially speech with which one disagrees.

Limiting speech should be our last resort, the route we take when–and only when–speech poses a direct physical or psychological danger. And as speech, roll call poses no threat except that of stifling free speech on our campus.

Another argument with which I disagree is the assertion that roll call is wrong because it constitutes an “identity-based” manifestation of an “imbalance of power.” I agree that identity-based actions and power imbalances can be wrong. But they aren’t inherently wrong. Making identity-based decisions is often necessary and beneficial; identifying as American, or as Giants fans, for example, give thousands of people a sense of unity and purpose. Similarly can power imbalances be justified and productive. Teachers wielding authority over students, doctors wielding authority over patients, and police officers wielding authority over civilians, I believe, are all societally valuable imbalances of power.

Is booing freshman for being freshman a productive use of identity politics? Maybe not. Is booing freshman because we, as upperclassmen, can boo them a responsible use of our hierarchical authority? Probably not. But roll call certainly is not an evil enterprise merely due to its association with those practices.

I would also like to call out the characterization of roll call as a tradition that “can lead to more destructive, hateful behavior” as a slippery slope fallacy, a type of argumentative flaw. The authors’ use the same tool in worrying whether the behavior “left unchecked” will lead to more dangerous and egregious behavior without explaining why, after many years of the tradition’s free reign, no such behavior has yet occurred.

The argument contains other flaws, like the discussion of “college students” in a debate about the morality of high school behavior, the false parallelism of booing to “extreme” hazing seen in places like “Sayreville, New Jersey,” and the statement that schools not only can but are obligated to make decisions that impact the entirety of the student body based on the feelings of “one student.”

Similarly problematic are the assumptions that roll call causes a “loss of respect” for Campolindo despite the fact that students willingly participate in the activity as sophomores after having been targeted as freshman and the stated belief that in order for freshman to experience “full inclusion” they must experience that inclusion as defined not by their own feelings, but by the authors’ definitions.

The main point here, however, is not the rhetorical flaws of the authors’ argument, but rather the reality of my own.

Bullying is abuse of a weak individual. Roll call does not abuse the freshman. Therefore roll call is not bullying. Hazing is the imposition of strenuous and humiliating tasks as a means of initiation. Roll call does not impose strenuous and humiliating tasks. Therefore roll call is not hazing.

I support roll call because, neither bullying nor hazing, it is open speech that encourages campus spirit. I oppose bullying because it is unkind and immoral.

In conclusion, I agree with the teachers’ spirit but disagree with their stance. I, too, hope that Campolindo can learn to live up to its rightful “expectation of inclusivity” and don’t doubt that one day it will. I don’t, however, believe in banning roll call or any other legitimate and inoffensive use of speech on campus.

Disagree with our coverage of an event or stance on an issue? Write in. We believe that it is speech, not silence, that will build a better campus and a better world. And while we may not be in the bleachers, we’re more than up for a healthy boo.