Students misinterpret purpose of petitions

Last week, faculty from the Residence Life office, Multicultural Programs and Center for Equality and Justice circulated fliers across the California Lutheran University campus. 

The fliers were designed to raise awareness for culture-based Halloween costumes. They stated thought-provoking questions for people to consider, such as, “Does this costume represent a culture that is not my own?” and “Does this costume reduce cultural differences to jokes or stereotypes?”

In response to the institution’s flier, the Cal Lutheran College Republicans club created a petition titled, “Demand CLU Residence Life Apologize.” The College Republicans’ petition description clarified its motives by stating, “Apologize to the students of CLU for portraying us as racists, bigots and ignorant children in your latest flyer circulated around campus.” A multi-paragraph description that accompanied the petition further argued that Residence Life apologize for their “offensive assumptions.”

Following the stir that the petition sparked on campus, the Feminism Is club created a new petition titled, “We Support and Thank CLU Res Life, Multicultural Programs, and the CEJ Department.” The Feminism Is club’s petition description called for no action, but simply stated, “We support and thank CLU for encouraging and challenging students this Halloween. Their efforts help us create a campus founded in respect for diversity and individuals of all groups, backgrounds and walks of life.” 

This counter petition stated no goal, change or action to be taken whatsoever. Instead, it was simply a document for students to put a signature on labeling their stance.

It is worthy to note that the Residence Life flier did not dictate any students’ actions. Creating a petition that requests a formal apology ignores the purpose for this type of document, which is to change a current practice or judicial rule.

In other words, calling for a removal of all these fliers would better fulfill a petition’s purpose.   

Although that request touches on freedom of speech, which is an argument for another day.

The College Republicans petition’s informality, specifically the failure to fulfill any appropriate university processes for change prior to its creation, makes their goal to receive an apology unlikely.

College years are fundamental opportunities for political activism to take place, which helps form educated standpoints through broadened perspectives. However, critically thinking about actions, executing through appropriate mediums and respecting opposing viewpoints are necessary characteristics of constructive political involvement.

Firstly, both of these clubs incorrectly created petitions with no appropriate calls for change. Secondly, these petitions do not provide any persuasive insight about why their party’s viewpoint should be considered valid when compared to other sides. The Feminism Is club simply summarized the actual flier and the College Republicans emotional description lacks supportive information to better exemplify their position.

A petition is a formal request, typically bearing signatures, addressed to a specific person or organization. There are four general types of petitions: legal, political, public-purpose and Internet viral.

Legal petitions ask for a court to issue specific orders in pending cases, political petitions follow extensive rules typically to affect ballot outcomes, and public-purpose petitions ask officials to take, or reject, a particular action, such as installing a stop sign. Internet viral petitions are typically about raising awareness about an issue or raising money for issues and generally considered weak in the realm of changing policy.

Student political activism has been nearly non-existent on Cal Lutheran’s campus during my past three years. There seemed to be a stigma attached to having any sort of ideological division. However this concept ignores a university’s capability to foster beliefs and strengthen viewpoints. By discouraging this, it fails us, as students by perpetrating that this can never be performed in an appropriate and respectful manner.

These Cal Lutheran clubs’ decisions to create petitions were clear indicators of the undergraduate population’s misunderstanding about activism. College campus activism should not cause knee-jerk reactions to create new petitions.

The Cal Lutheran political climate should cultivate new ideas, raise awareness through intellect, receive and deliver information respectfully and promote involvement. This can be seen in a variety of ways, such as, designing response fliers, writing opinion editorials, speaking on iCLU, tabling on campus or simply sparking a conversation at Starbucks.

Unless we are seeking for an action to be taken, it is time for Cal Lutheran students to drop the petitions and encourage thoughtful ways to advocate for issues with each other in order to become more educated in our own beliefs and ideological positions.

Savannah Robinson
Guest Writer
Published November 4th, 2015