Columns / Discourse / May 21, 2014

Conservation Corner: Step beyond institutional buzzwords

The past few weeks on campus have been defined by a tone of action, with students calling on the administration to thoroughly review their handlings of issues ranging from counseling on campus, to tuition hikes, to a general lack of diversity.

In many cases, criticism has rested on a general frustration with the lack of follow-through when it comes to the school “putting its money where its mouth is.” Liberal arts buzzwords such as “diversity” have been diluted, students argue, when it comes to a consensual understanding of what the word —  that we hear so often —  looks like in practice.

Because of the tremendous strength and clarity of the students who spoke, I have begun to rethink how I view the institutional buzzwords such as “diversity” and “sustainability.”

Over the course of my four years here, I’ve taken comfort in pitching my tent underneath the shadow of these campus ideologies. I found solace and pride in knowing that I was at an institution that believed in these things. In this comfort, however, there was a tone of complacency.

I began to use the words so often that I didn’t even know what they meant —  much less what they looked like in practice.

Last week, our Sustainability Coordinator Froggi Van Riper, sent out a call to the campus community seeking input on how to define sustainability. This is a vitally important opportunity, as we are the keepers of our community values and mission.

We are the ones who choose what these words that are pitched to us look like in action. If we claim to live under the auspices of certain values and certain ideologies, then we must certainly know what they mean. Indeed, we must define them ourselves.

Our campus is exceptional. With two weeks left to go in my undergraduate career, I truly believe that the ethos of our institution and the collective aggregate of our student body are fundamentally good.

But we must be able to self-evaluate, sometimes uncomfortably, if we are to truly retain and internalize the values and standards to which we claim to hold ourselves. Because simply existing at a certain geographical coordinate on a map for four years isn’t enough.

It’s the ideas and the actions behind those ideas that make a place special. We must measure ourselves constantly against the words that we lay claim to in order to claim them at all.


Max Potthoff
Max Potthoff is an environmental columnist for The Knox Student. He is a junior majoring in environmental studies and is a member of KnoxCorps, working with Cyclists of Galesburg. During his sophomore year, he was the sustainability chair for Student Senate.

Tags:  buzzword College define definition froggi van riper institution Knox sustainability walkout

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