The American Heritage Dictionary contains six definitions of the word “tolerance.” Over the past few weeks, students and faculty of the Eastman School of Music have proved that there are many more definitions than the dictionary can currently handle. Sadly, one meaning of the word seems to be, “The capacity for or the practice of recognizing and respecting the beliefs or practices of others, as long as they are in agreement with a given culture’s beliefs.”

Recently, the Eastman Christian Fellowship celebrated Holy Week with a grand production of events. Biblical quotes were taped to the walls of every dormitory floor, a table was set up in the school with various religious paraphernalia and a nearly seven-foot wooden cross was displayed in the center of the main hall at Eastman. Posters entitled “Jesus Week” were taped to the walls of both the dorm and the school, advertising the week’s events.

At the same time, another group of unidentified students created a different poster. It was very similar to the “Jesus Week” poster in form and layout, but was instead entitled, “People Who Don’t Want Others’ Religions (Including Their Own!) Shoved In Their Faces Week.” The poster listed fake events that parodied the extravagance of the events occurring during “Jesus Week.”

During the first week of April, the Eastman student body received an e-mail from the Dean of Eastman James Undercofler, which condemned the satirical posters as “acts of intolerance.” The posters were outrageously compared with the recent defacing of certain faculty members’ “Safe Zone” stickers – stickers that promote a safe environment for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation – a completely unrelated event.

Quite simply, it is time for Eastman to rethink its definition of tolerance. If the school aims, as its handbook says, to “provide a setting that is characterized by respect for the individual and encouragement to develop his or her full potential,” the school must do its duty and address the interests and concerns of every student group. This means not only respecting the views of a specific group, but respecting the views of those who disagree with that group as well.

The group of people who created the satirical posters was composed of Protestants, Catholics, Jews and atheists. These individuals came together to create a tongue-in-cheek spoof of certain events they deemed “over-the-top.”

An anonymous representative claimed that the posters were in no way intended to be anti-Christian.

They were, instead, created to drive home a point that was important to a large number of students – that the “Jesus Week” events were simply too flamboyant. They were not only distracting – they were offensive. The posters would not have been created if ECF had simply kept things in moderation.

Many people, who were not involved in the making of the posters, agreed. One Jewish student stated that she had never felt more like a minority than when she walked into that school and saw the giant cross. Regardless of the ECF’s good intentions, the cross made the student feel small, alone and uncomfortable – an outsider in her own territory.

“If I walked into the Eastman School of Music and saw an enormous Star of David, I would still feel the exact same way,” senior Laura Puzio said. Certain Christians were also offended by the display.

“I understand what the ECF was trying to do, and they certainly had the right to do it,” junior Jennifer Panara said. “However, I feel that the flashiness of the display was simply inappropriate.”

Sophomore Richard Miserendino added, “While ECF both had, and still has, every right to hold ‘Jesus Week,’ one would hope for the use of greater taste, planning and consideration in the future.”

Whether or not the rest of Eastman agrees with these students, in no way should their collective opinion be brushed aside as an act of “intolerance,” nor should it be grouped in the same category with an act of hatred and vandalism.

“An act of vandalism is malicious,” sophomore Caitlin Hickey said. “These posters weren’t malicious. They were intended to be more like The Onion or ‘The Daily Show’ – just a humorous parody about some recent going-ons.”

Instead of being divisive, these opposing opinions should have been catalysts for new action on the part of the students and faculty.

All student groups should think more carefully about what is or is not appropriate for display in a non-religiously-affiliated institution, and faculty members should not be so quick to condemn students that are simply expressing unprejudiced disagreement with those said groups.

In doing so, the social environment at Eastman will be less divided and more tolerant. For what is tolerance if not respect for all individuals, rather than just some?

Malamut can be reached at lmalamut@campustimes.org.



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