Recently, while working on my senior capstone about Stalinist art, I was thinking about the lack of dynamism, excitement and wit in Lawrence social life. Where are the creative new parties everyone is excited to attend? Why do organizations stick with old themes, or only come up with flaccid new ideas, high-school homecoming knock-offs for which no one dresses up?
Even during philanthropy events, which are supposed to be displays of passion driving forward a worthy cause, it seems that groups are just going through the motions. Although shining exceptions exist, including Greenfire’s Earth Day celebration and SLUG’s sustainable agriculture conference — and enthusiasm and taste are difficult to measure — it seems that Lawrence students are a bunch of boring, white-bread kids of low-brow taste.
Is that it? I’ve met a lot of passionate, clever and fun-loving Lawrentians. Maybe a community of 1,400 students that is so bureaucratically hog-tied that they cannot even figure out how to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a musician every two years is feeling constrained in other avenues, such as creativity and passion in campus life. Wherever expression is censored, the censor is the final arbiter of taste, and it is difficult to execute a vision that is partially or wholly not internally generated. Revolutions — or other novelty and excitement — rarely come from the top.
Throughout my whole Lawrence career, I have justified the administrative roadblocks set up to hinder organizations’ abilities to express themselves, or even exist, as good practice for the bullshit awaiting me after graduation. As I grapple with the prospect of entering the “real-world,” I realize that whenever I want to put on an event, distribute posters or assemble, I will not have to argue with a bureaucrat about whether my behavior is ethically or visually unacceptable. I find it amazing that they retain the power to stop an organization like YUI from even assembling on campus, after YUI formed Artistic Masturbation, the Lawrence iteration of Rocky Horror Picture Show and won the Great Midwest Trivia Contest almost every year — events heavily promoted on the LU website.
When SigEp wanted to give a philanthropy event with the Waseda students during an upcoming party to benefit earthquake victims, their idea was dismissed as tasteless and likely ineffective, causing us to go for the same old spring party. A Co-Op party really cannot be dubbed Nearly Naked? Does the administration think most Lawrentians have never glimpsed scantily-clad colleagues, or just don’t want to think about it happening? When I want to have a get-together with several grown friends without fear that security will come to pour out my beer and send my friends home, I have to grovel before another adult’s feet with a notarized document? That seems a little ridiculous.
Bureaucracy is like mayonnaise — you need a little bit, but the Lawrence administrative apparatus has begun to ooze into places where they are not helpful and certainly are not welcome, stifling Lawrence’s local flavors. I have never felt anyone display the superfluous nature of their posts so directly as the Lawrence administration’s nitpicky micro-managing throughout my past four years — expressed grossly in the e-mail to the student body outlining “springtime safety tips.” I’m 22 years old, I know that cars move fast.
Am I being too harsh? The administration could have higher aspirations, attempting to offer an aesthetic and moral facet of my education. It is too bad I wasted all that time in art history and religious studies courses — the answer was just across the street? Maybe they should rebrand themselves as a Ministry of Culture, and get some positive examples of “Lawrence Art/Event” that we are to emulate. Negative definitions of standards seem unduly prone to whimsy and political biases.
An explanation of standards through prohibition encourages a duality of official and unofficial speech and action manifested in event names and drinking and drug policies. Unrealistic and unfair requirements just force everyone to lie. The university uses its “party-registering” requirement to make sure no one they do not want is giving an event they do not want to happen, and uses their unrealistic and vague rules to shut those events down. With no objective standards, that is the most detailed description of administration policy possible.
I am certainly not proposing that the university’s negative standard is too staid and conservative to ever acknowledge that college students can be risqué**é** and edgy; that would downplay their apparent capriciousness. If unreasonable policy has not affected something you are involved with yet, they may come for you next — the office of campus life just hired a new employee, maybe expressly to regulate you.
Ask the YUIs; ask SigEp. If Lawrence would like a more creative and productive community, with some “innovation through collaboration,” then they should loosen the choke chain held at megalomaniacal tightness and appreciate a little freedom of expression — maybe that involves letting go of responsibility for every piece of group expression on campus. Are they simply afraid of a reign of poor taste?