Toward a New Culture

On October 12th, a riot broke out at Western Washington University (WWU) in Bellingham, Washington after police officers had busted a large block party. In an act of defiance, 400 students flooded the Bellingham streets in direct confrontation with the riot police who tried to disperse them. The students protested with glass bottles, cinder blocks, and debris causing property damage to police cruisers. While some barricaded streets to keep police out, one girl had “twerked” against a police car. The police finally ended the struggle early Sunday morning with rubber bullets and tear gas causing injury and harm to many students.

The administration promised to expel any student involved in the riot and Bellingham police asked for help in identifying the people involved. This reaction clearly misses the reasons why the riot had started in the first place. Obviously, the students responded were responding to the continued tension that exists between police and young adults.

Dickinson used to have a vibrant counterculture, one that could have fostered a response of solidarity similar to what occurred at WWU. Back in 2009, the Arts House hosted social gatherings and brought a diverse group of students together. Despite rumors of heavy substance abuse and wildly subversive parties, the Arts House contributed heavily to the positive aspects of Dickinson culture. Unfortunately, the house was kicked off campus the semester before my arrival Freshmen year and became the new Wellness House.

Remnants of this culture still existed in 2010. Various clubs and organizations on campus had a much more vibrant dissidence than those of today. The Jive Turkeys used to host ridiculous events involving extreme consumption of alcohol. Eventually, the school cracked down turning Jive events into the exclusive parties they are today. Other clubs shared in this rebelliousness. Back in 2007, Students for Social Action was run by five Argentinean socialists who were able to bring Fair Trade coffee to the campus and host lively May Day events. The Square published scathing ironic critiques of the once-widely accepted cultural norms. The Social Justice House used to host hedonistic parties in their basement. An underground group known as HUB Box #2552 once spurred up the campus with controversial banner-drops.

The most vocal component of this counterculture manifested itself in March 2011 when approximately 300 students occupied Old West for the creation of a more coherent Sexual Misconduct Policy. Despite the seemingly singular-mindset of the issue, the protest attracted a diverse group of students who all were able to come together for an anti-administration movement. The radical feminists who sparked the protest kept the fire burning as the moderate liberals drafted a proposed student-led policy. The hipster-punks, drawing cultural influence from Dickinson’s underclass, kept morale high with various hijinks while those experienced in group bonding helped build social cohesion between students. We broke into the Old West computer lab and started a hippie circle. We dreamt of hanging banners from the roof and even worked on stealing information from the offices of certain administrators.

Dickinson lost all of that rebelliousness. Today, counterculture is generated by Healthy Masculinity discussions or Professor Talks at the Social Justice House. These group discussion events don’t really teach students that rebellious spirit is necessary to make true and persistent change. The cultural war that had been raging on for years at Dickinson was never between feminists and Greek Life or drug-users and DPS. , it was a war of ideology and where unfortunately, liberalism won. The liberals sacrificed the energy and hope built up by the radicals to compromise with the administration. No matter what clique you traverse, an ideological divide exists everywhere. The liberals of the Feminist Collective, of Greek Life, of the Social Justice House are the problem.

Socialism, anarchism, and libertarianism, the ideologies commonly associated with counterculture, have been pushed to the margins of Dickinson campus discourse. Compromise has become the new goal for social movements on campus while those with alternative opinions are dismissed as extremists.

There is a new hope though. A fresh new environmental movement recently resurged by first years who dumpster dive and inspired the Reinvest Dickinson movement. The Feminist Collective and Earth Now have started to come together. Despite recent articles, Greek Life and the wider community have even come together.