Dear Convocation: What Are You?

Dear Convocation: What Are You?

Are you a pulpit, a political tool, or a public space of ideas?
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If you're a student at Liberty University here in Lynchburg, Virginia, you know that Convocation is nothing short of incredible. It's a dizzying experience at first, being surrounded by 13,000+ peers and staff, joining in a communal worship service, and being able to hear speakers whose names may be passed around your dinner table during school breaks.

Every residential, on-campus student attends Convo three times a week. We sit in assigned sections. At Convocation, it is a humbling experience to recognize that you are not just a student, but part of a student body, part of the body of Christ.

But a growing part of that student body is now beginning to question not just who is speaking on a said day, or what was said, but what Convocation actually is.

According to Liberty's website, Convocation is not a chapel service, despite the 15-20 minute worship held before speakers rise to the podium. This distinction allows them to host any number of diverse speakers, as Convocation "allows people from all walks of life to compel, equip, and challenge our students to think clearly and with conviction."

Guests at Convo are chosen by “relevance,” and if the speaker happens to “possess a message that will contribute to pivotal cultural conversations that stretch both the hearts and minds of our students, faculty, and staff.”

In these past few years, however, it's not been hard to find students in the halls or at the gym or simply walking down University Boulevard and hear them dreading yet "another political Convo" and "another pastor selling a book," or squealing, "I can't believe so-in-so said that!"

That's not to say that these kinds of speakers are featured prevalently at our school—but they come often enough that we notice and make memes like the brilliant millennials we are. As far as political Convos go, it's no secret that our school president, Jerry Falwell Jr., supported and continues to support now-U.S. President Donald Trump.

But just how much of that support trickles into our Convocation remains to be seen, as right-wing commentators, journalists, and Trump Campaign affiliates have often been under the Convocation spotlight.

What pains me personally about Convo, however, is that last semester, (including those in panels and grouped speakers) only 22% of all Convocation speakers were women. Only 30% of female speakers spoke unaccompanied. While it is uncommon, and in many cases unheard of for women to speak with authority from a Christian pulpit, Convocation is clearly defined as separate from Chapel.

Considering that the majority of undergrads at Liberty are women, this poses a interesting question: If Convocation is not Chapel, then what is it, and do the same traditional criterion of the pulpit also apply to Convo?

An initial response may very well be, no, of course not; we've had speakers all the way from Social Democrat Bernie Sanders to Republican Ted Cruz and his presidential bid in 2015, from Christine Caine and her "Propel Women" initiative, to the Robertson family of the A&E reality show, Duck Dynasty.

However, if that truly were the case, then why do these numbers exist in 2017? Why is the ratio of female speakers to male speakers so unequal?

Dear Convocation, what are you?

This is not to say that male speakers are unable to teach, preach, or persuade female students at Liberty; rather, this is a matter of representation. Of the percentage aforementioned, only 33% of female speakers were of color, compared to an even more disappointing 23% of the male speakers.

In the world of #blacklivesmatter, #metoo, or #timesup, where does Convocation fit in?

If Convocation is not Chapel, if it is meant to enrich our college experience by exposing us to diverse and culturally relevant speakers in order for us "Champions for Christ" to better engage with the world around us…why are those beautiful and powerful and culturally-relevant discussions on fighting racism, domestic abuse, sexism, why are they so few and far between? The voices we hear matter.

Dear Convocation, are you a pulpit, a political tool, or a public space of ideas?

Let me know when you've figured it out. In the meantime, I'll go find my seat in section 101, and I am looking forward to what this new semester will bring.

Cover Image Credit: Pixabay

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An Open Letter to the Person Who Still Uses the "R Word"

Your negative associations are slowly poisoning the true meaning of an incredibly beautiful, exclusive word.
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What do you mean you didn't “mean it like that?" You said it.

People don't say things just for the hell of it. It has one definition. Merriam-Webster defines it as, "To be less advanced in mental, physical or social development than is usual for one's age."

So, when you were “retarded drunk" this past weekend, as you claim, were you diagnosed with a physical or mental disability?

When you called your friend “retarded," did you realize that you were actually falsely labeling them as handicapped?

Don't correct yourself with words like “stupid," “dumb," or “ignorant." when I call you out. Sharpen your vocabulary a little more and broaden your horizons, because I promise you that if people with disabilities could banish that word forever, they would.

Especially when people associate it with drunks, bad decisions, idiotic statements, their enemies and other meaningless issues. Oh trust me, they are way more than that.

I'm not quite sure if you have had your eyes opened as to what a disabled person is capable of, but let me go ahead and lay it out there for you. My best friend has Down Syndrome, and when I tell people that their initial reaction is, “Oh that is so nice of you! You are so selfless to hang out with her."

Well, thanks for the compliment, but she is a person. A living, breathing, normal girl who has feelings, friends, thousands of abilities, knowledge, and compassion out the wazoo.

She listens better than anyone I know, she gets more excited to see me than anyone I know, and she works harder at her hobbies, school, work, and sports than anyone I know. She attends a private school, is a member of the swim team, has won multiple events in the Special Olympics, is in the school choir, and could quite possibly be the most popular girl at her school!

So yes, I would love to take your compliment, but please realize that most people who are labeled as “disabled" are actually more “able" than normal people. I hang out with her because she is one of the people who has so effortlessly taught me simplicity, gratitude, strength, faith, passion, love, genuine happiness and so much more.

Speaking for the people who cannot defend themselves: choose a new word.

The trend has gone out of style, just like smoking cigarettes or not wearing your seat belt. It is poisonous, it is ignorant, and it is low class.

As I explained above, most people with disabilities are actually more capable than a normal human because of their advantageous ways of making peoples' days and unknowingly changing lives. Hang out with a handicapped person, even if it is just for a day. I can one hundred percent guarantee you will bite your tongue next time you go to use the term out of context.

Hopefully you at least think of my friend, who in my book is a hero, a champion and an overcomer. Don't use the “R Word". You are way too good for that. Stand up and correct someone today.

Cover Image Credit: Kaitlin Murray

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My First Political Debate Experience Only Revealed The Messed-Up Reality Of American Partisan Pandering

More sinister than fake news, more timeless than Trump and Kavanaugh, the deceit and radicalization of modern politics is poisoning America.

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Given my age (almost 16 and a half!) and my nonpartisan perspective on most issues, it's rare that I attend any politically motivated function (much less in person). Unfortunately, my first taste of official political discourse only encapsulated everything I dislike about American politics.

Upon learning that my high school was hosting a debate between two candidates for the district's representative position, I was immediately intrigued. Admittedly, I had my expectations set high. I had jotted down "House Rep. Debate" on my calendar a week in advance and marked off the days the event neared. I would finally get to learn firsthand about the issues affecting my community and about the people with plans to fix them.

To a certain extent I got what I had hoped for, but certainly not in the environment I had anticipated.

When the student moderators introduced the candidates, Democrat Angelika Kausche and Republican Kelly Stewart, to the stage, it was already abundantly clear how ideologically distinct the two opponents would be.

The first question, which asked each candidate to describe how their views aligned with their party's platform, revealed just how cut-and-dry the candidates were at representing their respective factions. On the left, an unwavering conservative with a keen avoidance of overspending and socialist policies. On the right, an equally grounded liberal with a passion for tackling humanitarian injustices and enforcing moral correctness.

This circumstance certainly isn't unprecedented, but the rest of the night only proved how their narrow-minded partisan loyalty served as barriers to productive discourse.

Right off the bat, Kausche avoided the clearly stated question by taking the time to thank the John's Creek Community Association for hosting the event.

Stewart, however, dove right into her response, which turned out to be a fine-tuned diatribe about Georgia's budgetary deficit and Kausche's supposed lack of budgetary experience and the budgetary concerns and the budget. Finally, Stewart concluded that perhaps the most important thing to consider is, you guessed it, the budget. She even printed out budget sheets for attendees, which I found extraordinarily useful as a handy notepad.

My head perked up when I heard a question regarding Georgia's healthcare policies. Admittedly, I know less than I should about the subject and was curious to know what each candidate thought.

Shockingly, Republican Kelly Stewart opposed the expansion of Medicaid while Democrat Angelika Kausche vehemently supported it. I start to wonder what the point of having candidates' names on the ballot is when their political stances just as much could be conveyed with the letters "D" and "R" to the tee.

Neither candidate veered from their party platform for the rest of the night, with only a few moments of forced agreement (always around the fact that an issue exists, never about how to solve it). On a few occasions, a candidate would utter an especially radical idea (i.e. Obamacare is at blame for the opioid crisis. Medicaid should be for all people. Teachers should be armed.) and was almost always met with either overwhelming applause or a sea of groans.

The room's reaction was so powerful in either candidate's favor that I was genuinely confused who was the more favored of the two.

To be abundantly clear, I wholeheartedly support voter efficacy and staying informed, and I understand that debates inform voters of their representative's ideals. I also don't mean to criticize Kausche or Stewart or even the policies they endorse. I only question the point of debate when it's anchored in stiff, unrelenting party platforms. This is symptomatic of the larger trend at work in American politics: the exploitation of party differences by politicians to entice a demographic of their constituents.

If you're wondering what that means or demand evidence, just take President Trump. Back in 2016, his presidential campaign threatened to run as independent when he felt he wasn't getting enough support from the GOP. Now, he champions radicalized views of the right and has emboldened members of the far-right (along with alt-right neo-Nazis and racists) with his entirely anti-PC attitude.

Similarly, it's rare to find a democratic politician that deviates from the extensive list of liberal ideas that are expected of them. Consider Trump's opponent Hilary Clinton, who originally made it clear in 2014 that she was against nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage. Isn't it suspicious that in 2015, without explaining why her stance changed, her presidential campaign later advocated for this right, thus garnering support from the LGBT community?

There's so much more wrong with the state of American politics than your opposed party controlling political office.

The effect of the American people allowing this pandering and doublespeak is political inaction among policymakers, who can preach a set of ideals independent of their actual intentions.

The other result is voter apathy among constituents, who therefore feel their vote holds little weight.

With such deceitful rhetorical tactics dominating the political sphere, it's easy to believe that we've all been given a voice. But when that voice only ever tells us what we want to hear, it's important that we stop to question whether we're really being heard.

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