LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Denying a monolithic American culture

In response to Allison Augustyn’s latest letter to the Lawrentian, I would like to raise some points from the opposite perspective. The greatest objection I raise to Ms. Augustyn’s argument is that she fails to consider that American society has never been a monolithic cultural block that draws its heritage, tradition, and thought exclusively from Europe.

The writings of authors who come from traditionally marginalized parts of our society are neither fleeting nor modern, but represent a history of oppression and resistance that goes back to the origins of American society. The ideas generated by thinkers from the third world, by women, and by African-Americans have long been pushed to the periphery of Academia and have been denied their rightful influence over our hearts and minds.

These ideas derive their significance not from the context of Western thought but rather from the richness and merit of the traditions from which they emerge. Ms. Augustyn suggests, “Before we can truly understand other cultures…we must have a clear and focused understanding of our own culture.” This idea of a singular culture of “our own,” as opposed to the culture of the “Other,” which Ms. Augustyn constructs, would continue to restrict my own, and other non-Western scholars’ participation to the margins of Academia.

As our society and the Academy begin to recognize the existence of a truly multiracial and poly-cultural society within our country, changes will have to be made to decolonize a curriculum that has been dominated by the thought of privileged, European men. I agree that we must know ourselves in order to appreciate diversity, but how is that possible if those from whom I trace my own heritage are denied a voice in the Academy?

Indeed, I sincerely hope that the courses to which Ms. Augustyn objects will become a permanent fixture of the curriculum at Lawrence, and that the privilege to shape the thoughts of future generations will truly belong to all who are great. While she is free to express her opinions and concerns about the Lawrence campus, Ms. Augustyn should know that in this instance few share her opinion that these changes represent a loss to Lawrence.

—Gustavo Setrini

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