Love in Action is a column aimed at understanding the world in its complexity framed through a lens of radical love and its practical implications. Too often, we focus on the hate that pervades the world, but what about Love? And where does its potential lie?
Power negates Love. It is as simple as that. A relationship — between people, institutions, communities, groups, etc. — with an unjust power dynamic is bound to negate the divine potential of Love. Such is the case at Lawrence. LU’s mission statement reads as follows:
“The university is devoted to excellence and integrity in all of its activities and committed to the development of intellect and talent, the pursuit of knowledge and understanding, the cultivation of sound judgment and respect for the perspectives of others. Lawrence prepares students for lives of achievement, responsible and meaningful citizenship, lifelong learning and personal fulfillment. As a diverse learning community of scholars and artists, we actively foster a transformative process that emphasizes engaged learning, supported by an environment of rich educational opportunities in a residential campus setting.”
Sounds great, right? Based on my four years studying here, I would say our school is pretty successful at the above. I do feel prepared to learn and grow throughout the course of my life, and I have an enriched path ahead. I have seen other students of the past and present on a similar trajectory. However, this success story is limited to the mission statement. Let us not kid ourselves — Lawrence is not an institution that follows a Love ethic.
What do I mean by a Love ethic? bell hooks defines Love as a verb (i.e., “love is as love does”) as “the will to extend oneself for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” She outlines six core aspects of Love as well: care, knowledge, responsibility, respect, commitment and trust. With these lovely contours in mind, let us reflect on what ways Lawrence manifests Love and how it fails to do so in other areas.
In my mind, there are two ‘hats’ that LU dons: one of community and one of business. The Lawrence community is what we are encouraged to see as LU’s true face: all of the faculty and staff that comprise its employees — all those welcoming faces who dot the campus in their readiness to serve the grand vision of educating the next generation. This face of Lawrence truly is Loving in a variety of ways. Faculty and Staff exercise care, commitment and knowledge when they dedicate themselves to developing personal bonds with students. Such bonds are usually respectful, honest and trusting. Faculty and Staff members mostly approach their roles responsibly.
Of course, such Love is undermined by the university’s regular failure to hold itself and irresponsible employees accountable. Regardless, the Lawrence ‘community’ is the university’s saving grace when it comes to practicing a Love ethic. It is comprised of people who care for each other and for us students. For a student, it is what can determine whether or not they are able to find a squishy corner to reside in or whether they slip through the cracks.
The other hat of Lawrence, the business face, is the root of many issues students, staff and faculty alike experience here. It does not take a rocket scientist to understand why privatized education is problematic. Or the fact that education comes with a price tag in the first place. The beauty of our community is overshadowed by the bureaucratic machine’s need to maintain its wealth, its ideological production and its own institutional mechanisms. Talk to any faculty or staff member, and you will soon learn of the machine’s lethargic rate of change and [in]action. The machine pumps out more administrative emails than meaningful acts.
Along this vein, Lawrence shows its lack of commitment and respect toward the student body and its supposed ‘community’ by prioritizing performativity and publicity. Bureaucracy is the device through which the Board of Trustees and the institution maintain themselves. Such a device distances itself from the people who form the community and away from any signs of care, knowledge or trust. It allows elites, such as tenured faculty and high-level administrators, to commit injustices towards its marginalized members by withholding accountability.
I truly believe that many people at Lawrence operate in good faith and try to make this a better place for everyone. The relationships of mutuality I have cultivated with various faculty and staff members here are living proof of that.
However, there are those, such as Dean of Students Curt Lauderdale or Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion and Associate Dean of Faculty Kimberly Barrett, Ph.D., for example, who have dismissed students’ very real concerns and who are protected by the institution’s heinous capacity for protecting and re-producing itself. Such a machine is cold and unfeeling and privileges wealth, power and hate over the earthly paradise of Love.