Taking Back The Commona

Tensions are running high on the UVM campus. Final projects, papers and make-up work are all the talk as we near the end of the semester. Students are succumbing to the paralyzing affects of spring fever that have rendered all possibilities of academic progress nauseating and painful. Dining Services has been recycling leftovers in an effort to cut corners, and it is being expressed in student morale. On top of that, our campus has become a pseudo petting zoo for admitted students and their overprotective parents. However, nothing would prepare me for the email I received last week. As you may or may not know, this Wednesday is April 20th, better known as “420.” This day is symbolic for many people and for various reasons. Some see it as a way to express frustrations about school/state/national drug policy. Others go for the social aspect to relieve the stresses of spring fever and to enjoy music and games. Some gather to exercise their rights to free speech and to organize. And some gather just to gather. But for the most part this day is a day of ritual – to smoke weed on the greens of UVM and rebel against the “MAN.” I fall into almost all these categories except for one, but I do not speak for everyone. Addressing the upcoming holiday, President Fogel has sent a campus-wide email condemning OUR tradition of 420. I love the narrative style and choice of words that Fogel uses to address this issue. Quoting Fogel: “I hope to ‘enlist’ you in a very important effort…’Protecting’ and ‘solidifying’ UVM’s ‘reputation’ and prestige as an institution with unquestionable academic quality.” He goes on to flatter us with achievements and milestones, which UVM has received, as a result of “the outstanding, progressive, engaged students of UVM.” His words made me feel proud about my university. I felt part of a solid community. And then I learned the true purpose of this well-groomed email. “In past years… “420”…has greatly detracted from the overall image (of UVM)…, and has raised intense concerns among legislators, donors, and parents. Let’s use the day to send a strong message that this is not what “we” want to be known for.” I felt betrayed, used, even violated by this ridiculous request. Not so much that he had the balls to ask such a question. But the way he played on our emotions and integrity as students in this community. No, I will not enlist in your war on students. No, I will not help to protect or solidify UVM’s reputation as an institution with unquestionable corporate responsibility. And I don’t care if there is intense concern from legislators, donors, or parents to end 420 festivities. UVM is a land Grant university. it is not for sale to private interest who wish to make UVM the next “Ivy League.”

And what about the students? Has there been intense concern from them to end 420? I mean…whose side are you on? Are you for the students, the ones who are paying for this university and your $283,000 salary (not to mention 80% of the new student commons which many of us will not see the results)? Or do your priorities lie somewhere else? Are you worried about the image of UVM; the image that you sell to prospective students, families and private donors? I wonder… Higher education is meant to be a learning experience for those privileged enough to attend. Students come to gain knowledge. They come to learn skills. In addition to gaining knowledge in a university atmosphere, students learn valuable lessons that are otherwise difficult to find in the “real world.” I like to think of college as an open area for learning and exploring; a place where students (and faculty) are free to express themselves without impediment. And regardless of whether or not those expressions are seen as immoral, ugly, tainted or improper by some, they are precious and deserve to exist. The UVM community is a rich pluriverse of Peoples, Cultures and ideas and we are the benefactors. Much like the posters I see on campus depicting a student of UVM with the bold letters underneath saying: “I AM UVM,” everyone in this community “is UVM.” To say that we should “stamp out” the expressions of one group is to deprive UVM from expressing as a whole.

You cannot pick and choose your neighbors. Similarly you cannot choose what your community looks like or how it transcends. This university is not a genetic engineering project. We cannot pick the best traits and delete the rest. I did agree with one aspect of the President’s message: “Please continue to work together to build pride and value for each other by upholding UVM as a place where bright, engaged, and engaging students come to study and to build the foundations of lifelong success.” I think 420 will be a perfect opportunity to build pride and values that Fogel speaks of. UVM is comprised of engaged and engaging students. And I know that many of us are not willing to sacrifice our identity and rights to free expression for an imaginary image that Fogel envisions. I am UVM! I don’t’ smoke Pot, but I will support those who are working to advocate change. I am not ashamed at our president. I believe he is a good man. But he has let outside interest control the vision of our university. Let’s help Fogel reach his potential as a nurturing president. I am not advocating a massive smoke-out in defiance of Fogel. But I am advocating for students to speak out against the termination of one of the oldest original student traditions in defiance of bureaucracy. The beauty of 420 is that it was created by and for the students. And it will be passed down by the students as well. Come out to the green this Wednesday. Come out for music. Come to speak out. Come to meet friends and stand in solidarity. More importantly, come to support the expression of free speech and civil liberties. Don’t be afraid to express yourself. However do be mindful that smoking trees is illegal. Our boys and girls in uniform won’t think twice to arrest you for breaking the law. Don’t give them the satisfaction. Lets rise above all the “ish” and make a new name for 420…one that everyone can feel good about. For more info, keep your eyes and ears open. Lets organize, rise up and take back our Commons!