July 20, 2019 | 83° F

FINNERTY: Wall of prejudice proves communication is necessary

Opinions Column: Waxing Philosophical


If you walked down College Avenue this week, surely you would have noticed the massive wall in front of the College Avenue Student Center. This wall, built by your humble author and my fraternity brothers, represents an often-undiscussed notion of prejudice: perception. My fraternity, Pi Lambda Phi, prides itself on our philanthropic endeavor to eliminate prejudice through respectful conversation about sensitive topics involving the entire community. After several hours of Home Depot trips and trying to move this behemoth wall from a minuscule backyard, it was finally up and ready for use.

I must admit, given my previous experiences with bustling students on College Avenue avoiding all things related to Greek life, I considered the possibility that participation would be minimal at best. By the time this article is published, the Wall of Prejudice will have over 300 stereotypes, examples of prejudices and personal experiences of bias, given the average rate of involvement. Refreshing as it is to me that so many would find the time to participate in this social exercise of ours, there still exists the obvious: prejudice is alive and well, even on a very liberal college campus.

I found myself perusing the Wall, reading some of the ways people felt about themselves and their perceived existence in society. From stereotypes about gender, race and political affiliations — yes, Donald Trump supporters have feelings too — all provided so much reflection and a new view to Rutgers. How can so many people feel prejudiced and yet, not discuss it openly or take action to change? Or perhaps people are, but through methods not conducive to understanding. When a room is full of people yelling, none can be heard.

One student, a tall and confident looking man, eagerly grabbed the marker from my hand and approached the Wall. Reaching, squinting, he began furiously writing while his friend looked on. He finished his missive and tossed the marker back to me and walked off as if nothing had occurred. Had this been some Harambe joke or political statement? No, the student actually wrote that “I said I have cancer … they said HAHA.” My hardened heart sank into my stomach. Words are not even necessary to describe the sentiment involved in providing such a gut-wrenching statement, in public no less. My own prejudices, thinking this student was far too well-off looking to provide any real example of prejudice, were brought to the surface.

Perception, the act of interpreting the environment around you, is something difficult to discuss. The solipsism involved in perception and ergo the discussion of, provides a barrier to communication and understanding. So, what is it about the Wall of Prejudice that promotes this dialogue and open discussion? The anonymous nature in leaving unattributed feelings on a Wall destined to be destroyed— Yes, on Friday the Wall will be destroyed by anyone wishing to participate by means of the hammer. Or, as the adage goes, walls do not talk back, and that allows for unbridled expression.

Along with our Wall, we also have panel discussions of which much fruitful dialogue has been the result. On Wednesday, I moderated a panel on mental health stigmas. What began as a typical discussion, ended up in a mass confession of owned mental ailments. Friends, brothers and strangers let loose personal difficulties that I would have never perceived to exist. Perception is not everything, nor can it adequately assess the population around us.

Today I will be moderating another panel discussion on religious stereotypes and stigmas. A staunch atheist I am, often bereft of any sympathy towards dogmatic worship, I look forward to again exposing my own prejudices and failure to listen and understand others perceptions. If anything were apparent in this social exercise, it is that we, as a collective, need to do more listening.

This Friday, as the Wall is assaulted by various construction tools, I hope a new chapter of communication can be opened— one of altruism and reasonable discourse towards a future that has a place for anyone struggling to be heard. This culture of shame that we harbor, that is instilled in us from societal pressures, needs to be pushed aside as an archaic idea. Words are all we have to express the feelings we have and we ought to use them, but also reserve them for after a good listen is had. The Wall needs to be broken, physically and socially, so that all may be worthy of an honest opinion.

Jonathan Finnerty is a School of Arts Sciences senior majoring in classics and philosophy. His column, "Waxing Philosophical," runs on alternate Thursdays.

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Jonathan Finnerty

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