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Strength comes from commitment


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Arizona Daily Wildcat

Dan Cassino

By Dan Cassino
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
November 26, 1999
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This week, in the shadow of the doomed Memorial Student Union, students again demonstrated their commitment to making the world a better place through a commitment to volunteerism, diversity and free speech.

Fall service week, a series of volunteer activities on the mall with Project Volunteer, is the most visible demonstration of how university students work to improve themselves and their city. Most of the time, however, students make a difference in a more indirect manner: by maintaining the time-honored tradition of free speech and diversity on campus.

Like any university, the campus community is predominantly liberal. However, in recent days, the university has come out overwhelmingly in support of someone who is unethical in all of these views. Last week, the UA Mall was abuzz with a furious debate over the preaching of a man known to the campus as "Bible Jim." During "Coming Out Week," he stood on the mall denouncing homosexuality and its defenders. He told students that they were going to hell for what he perceived to be their sins.

Around him, the students hotly contested the issue. To the student body as a whole, he is misguided and close-minded. For the most part, we would have hoped that his brand of religion died out years ago. After the Arizona Daily Wildcat ran a letter in which the writer wondered why he was allowed to preach, it became obvious how the university really felt about him. Letters on the issue came pouring in, almost all expressing the same sentiments. Students disagree with him. They thought that he was a negative influence, but they staunchly defend his right to preach on campus. It's not just that he shouldn't be exiled from campus, but that we should go out of our way to make sure that all points of view - not just the ones that we find acceptable - are represented on campus.

Openness to new ideas is not limited to social issues. Another controversy has arisen in recent days on campus and involves the research of two university professors, Linda Russek and Gary Schwartz. With private funds, they conducted experiments to try to find out more about the ability of mediums to communicate with the dead, and the possibility of life after death: what they term "survival" research.

When their findings came out, the university community was deeply divided. But the primary concern was not that the results of the research may or may not have been valid, but rather whether survival research was receiving enough attention from the scientific community at large. Both sides were well represented in this debate. Supporters of the research expressed their view that we should try to combat dogmatic thinking by testing our views against the hard standard of science. Those opposed to the research questioned the ramifications of Russek and Schwartz's findings. In a debate like this, no one ever really wins out, but the university gained more from the dialogue that it achieved than any research.

Respect for diversity on campus extends to far more than just the serious issues of free speech and life after death. Recently, a far more frivolous issue has taken center stage in the eyes of many students: corndogs. A few months ago, a group of students discovered that they all liked corndogs, and, with creativity and a passion for this much-maligned food, they were able to establish the Corndog Appreciation Society as one of the most active clubs on campus. They got a little funding from the university, donations from local business and help from Foster Farms. Only here would we not just tolerate, but support such activities.

We do have problems. Our award-winning marching band needs uniforms. A service that provides transportation for students late at night may be in trouble. But these problems are institutional, and the real problem may be that students haven't been given a chance to help. As long as the student body maintains its commitment to diversity, there is no challenge that we cannot surmount.

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