Students in the Sea of Protests

By Olivia Heuiyoung Park (BSE ’19)

February might have been short of days, but it definitely wasn’t short of active voices for change. Opinions on topics such as gender neutral bathrooms, diversity for humanities faculty, and unfair schedule changes have made appearances in the forms of petitions, as most of us are aware. Students’ voices should be heard, changes are good, and petitions, when done right with the right language and attitude, can do both very effectively.

I don’t hate petitions. I think it’s important to be a part of some movement or call for change – especially at a college I’ll be spending the next few years of my life in. This is why I personally was part of actively distributing and delivering a specific petition. But, I was startled, if not bothered, by some of the things I’ve heard in the process. Some students just didn’t care about the issue as it didn’t affect them directly, while some students said that although they agree to parts of a petition, they do not agree to all of it. Some even said that they were pressured into signing some petitions because they didn’t want to be “that kid.”

“Some students just didn’t care about the issue as it didn’t affect them directly”

Petitions are, or should be, written formats of the voices of students, accurately embodying the whole population addressed. As it is in a written format, the language of petitions plays a huge role in the way it is delivered. It shouldn’t be an angry complaint letter with accusations and blame, and should be written free of assumptions of what YOU think others want – it should be written with the acceptance that there will be opposition to it. Petitions should also have specific and concrete proof to back the accusations and demands, and should be free of too extreme, all-or-nothing phrases; petitions should be engaging, identifying, and encompassing, especially when it is a call to change some existing system.

In my opinion, the three recent petitions did a decent job in doing this. The student voices were heard, and modes of active change are either already implemented or are in the process of doing so. Although these petitions were successful in starting changes and gaining more interest, I feel like it could have been even more effective with clearer language and attitude.

It’s crucial to keep in mind that people will have varying levels of agreement and thought, and it’s possible that some might agree to only specific parts of the written petition. If this occurs, don’t try to pressure the person to sign the petition because they agree with parts of it – be open for discussion and explanation, and clearly mention that if they do not agree with all of the demands in the petition, they are welcome to not sign it. When writing, try to be very specific so that the purpose of the petition is clear, while also keeping in mind some might disagree. And that’s okay! People shouldn’t feel like they’ll be “that kid” for having different opinions or for disagreeing with your petition; listen and understand different opinions regarding the topic.

It’s easy to simply conform to the majority out of fear of rejection. Everyone has different opinions, and those differences are why Cooper Union is as diverse, rich, and unique as it is. We, as students of Cooper Union, should provide a safe environment for everyone to openly discuss, disagree, and explain their own opinions. No one should feel pressured to agree to something they don’t, and everyone should be ready to “agree to disagree.”

“It’s easy to simply conform to the majority out of fear of rejection. “

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