Tolerance paradox still runs deep at Occidental


Occidental College is an intolerant place. Though students, faculty and administration preach that the school is open and tolerant, they are simply upholding a façade.

Every person is intolerant of something or biased toward and against certain beliefs. It would be naïve to think that any single person can be completely tolerant because people that are completely tolerant are intolerant of intolerance, thereby upholding the catch-22.

The Occidental Weekly has touched on this concept before: calling it the “tolerance paradox” or claiming that students do not listen enough to each other.

It certainly is a paradox. Students claim every day to be tolerant, then turn around and “talk shit” about anything as simple as someone’s shoes or something as serious as skin color and race.

Furthermore, people respond to an intolerant remark saying something along the lines of, “it is retarded for you to say that.” So, basically, it is acceptable to look down on and stigmatize intellectually disabled individuals but not Asian women drivers or African Americans or any other subgroup.

Even more so it is true that we, as a student body, do not listen to each other. And many voices at this school have been silenced—whether a majority or a minority is really not important because voices are voices, and people are people.

And sure, to appease those who think I am just being ignorant, Occidental is tolerant in some ways, specifically to people with the same belief system.

Because someone is male, white and comes from a privileged background, he is told that his opinion is less valid because he does not understand. But people are deeper than the color of their skin, worth more than the money their families have (or do not have) and should not be silenced for any reason.

We get into absurd debates with our classmates and that is encouraged, but we never actually question what we know about a person, or about ourselves. We assume that because they are white, black, blue, etc. that we know something about them or that we know what they are going to say. And we do not.

We go so far as to tell people the kinds of music to which they should listen. For instance, we label music as “bad music” and “good music.” I have been told countless times that I listen to bad music. Well, I am here to proudly say that I love Ke$ha; I could jam out to that all day. But I have also been known to enjoy a Black Keys song; Red Hot Chili Peppers was my favorite performance at my Lollapalooza trip and I have frequented a rave or two in my day.

Yet people tell me that I listen to bad music. That’s equivalent to saying, “you like bad art.” There is not bad art; there is art that one person finds more appealing than another. But that does not make the other decision wrong. It is also like saying, “you think bad thoughts.”

No one should have the right to tell people that what they think or what they listen to is bad because it is all a societal construction of meaningless jabber. We should question who we are and what we believe because faith strengthens itself when challenged. Unfortunately, Occidental just silences those with different opinions: Republicans, Christians, white privileged males or anyone who is not completely politically correct.

For instance, after some hooligan drew a swastika on a whiteboard, Dean of Students Barbara Avery sent an email to the campus stating: “This reflects a lack of understanding of the meaning of diversity that is central to Occidental’s mission and harms all of us by seeking to create an atmosphere of intolerance and fear. Let there be no doubt: efforts to intimidate anyone on campus in this or any other way will not be tolerated.”

Avery presents to the person exactly what he or she presented to Occidental: intolerance. She first assumes that it was in fact a crime of intolerance and then threatens that efforts to intimidate will also not be tolerated. Avery said, in essence, that intolerance at this school is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Thus, we are intolerant of intolerance. Rather than offering an educational facet or answering with concern, she responds with intolerance.

And here is the hypocrisy of Occidental College: we will preach to our dying day that we create an environment of love and openness, but we refuse to extend an education to those who may not know the difference between what is considered right and wrong or what is “central to Occidental’s mission.”

Occidental also forces students to conform to our school’s ideals. At a meeting with the Board of Trustees in January, a student said that he felt like he had to learn a new language in order to converse with other students. This is sad. He should not have to conform to our language of political correctness; we should compromise a bit and accept the background from which he comes.

We silence voices that need to be heard by staging marches, alienating people and by engaging in legal action that could damage our precious reputation.

It is time to put aside our reputation and let our actions do the talking for once.

Juliet Suess is a senior English and Comparative Literary Studies major. She can be reached at or on Twitter @WklyJSuess.