Editor’s Note: Prospects on Cultural Revolution (Ha!) at Calvin College
Alexius is currently indisposed, to put it politely, and he is suffering from some rather heavy delusional episodes about which I’m sure we’re all going to hear in due course. Lest my exasperated tone suggest otherwise, we are still the thickest of thieves, but there is no point denying there has been strain upon our relationship lately. In some ways, though the use of a psychic link between the two of us was a clumsy solution to our long-distance publishing relationship, it had its benefits.
I have written enough on that! To the matter at hand! Before the close of this year’s fall term at Calvin College, I was incensed, and furthermore motivated to take up the task of bringing more consciousness and political awareness–bluntly, education–to my peers at the college. These ideas formed in response to the ongoing budgetary crisis, the restricted student access to relevant and detailed information about the school’s financial health, and some small but annoying fork-tongued statements given by administrators to the school newspaper. All of this will be elaborate in a later piece, but for now I want to ponder a simple question: does Calvin College mean a hill of beans in the grand scheme of things? In less flippant terms: what is the political significance of Calvin and its students, and should I exert considerable effort toward building a kind of miniature cultural revival on campus?
After all, the character of the college is undeniably reactionary, and has been since its foundation. The vast majority of the student body, including the various liberals and “progressives” is about as politically active as the cast of Peanuts cartoons, more apt to drift and curse the wind than even consider acting in their own best interests. Not to mention that a genuine political revival at the college would probably be of the reactionary variety. Indeed, the bureaucrats and petty despots at the college are of more enlightened cast than most of the students, whose commitments to politics generally don’t extend further than “social justice” concerns at their local congregations. Of course, we are all overburdened by coursework, plagued by doubts over our ever-lengthening adolescence, straining for the respect of our parents (or burning bridges), trying to put together a social support group, and making various halfhearted stabs at trying to figure out the meaning of life. Our desks are full, we might say, and there is nothing to be done about the unfortunate character of Calvin’s administration and its blatantly archaic¹ (they prefer “traditional”) political positions. To compound the difficulty of any concerted effort to open up Calvin to a more active and constructive political debate, they are yoked to a denomination that is legendary as a bourgeois, schismatic, and politically constipated denomination. Not to say that all American churches aren’t like that to some degree.
What I need to emphasize is that something can be done. If the great mass of students were organized and properly represented, if they adopted correct and effective organizational and activist practices, if that progressive minority of the students demanded what they currently only whisper and complain about, something could be done. Of course, taking a realistic view of the college, I believe that as its denominational identity is continually eroded by the Christian Reformed Church’s low birthrate and as its liberal arts identity is eroded by social forces both within and beyond its control, there is less and less room for deviation from the evangelical line. Someone has to pay the bills for the college’s monumental mistakes, after all, and the growth is going to be in more vanilla conservative Christianity. Though there have been some gestures toward a more tolerant stance on LGBT issues (if that were an acceptable goal, I would still be unimpressed), demographic and economic pressures are likely to push enrollment to target more mainstream evangelical students. I do not look forward to the implications of that change.
With all this taken into account, therefore, I see no reason to believe that my efforts would lead Calvin’s student body to some kind of renaissance. Organizing students, even at such a small liberal arts college (perhaps because of it, since most of the students are fairly well off) is like herding cats. As a friend of a feline or two, let me tell you that that is no matter for lazy afternoons.
I have not yet addressed the question at hand, however. Namely, what should be done? At the moment, after giving the issue much thought, I don’t think I should be spending any effort attempting to save a private Christian college with whom I agree on virtually nothing. Its extinction would be met with my absolute indifference, perhaps except for some concern over the fate of certain teachers. There are more pressing political concerns, and I think my efforts would be better spent offering my skills to local socialist groups, if they can be found. I should live up to my assertions that Calvin hasn’t been my home since October of 2012. Time to leave the roost, as Evelyn would say, not as a defeatist but as a frustrated would-be revolutionary. I now realize that some of my earlier enthusiasm for organizing at Calvin was motivated by a desire to pad my “activist résumé,” gathering experience that might sound impressive to people at parties I won’t even attend. It’s clear I need to undergo some more self-transformation, some more meaningful and diligent intellectual and practical work, before I am ready to work for the cause of the international revolution.
1. See the student conduct code, which forbids any meaningful protest, sexual activity outside of marriage (yes, even between the straights), etc.