The Case for 2016

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Everyone said that 2016 was a terrible year, and while that may be true for our country’s morale, 2016 for current college freshmen was a big deal. We graduated high school and started college, the most exciting transition for most of us so far. It feels kind of strange to feel so good about a year that was generally perceived as terrible, but I can’t help but think that the cynicism casted on 2016 is superficial. We had some bad politics, big deal. There were too many good things about 2016 for us to forget, and if we lose them with the new year then I feel that we are only setting ourselves up for an even worse year. Here are the things from 2016 that I want to carry over into 2017.
1. The spotlight on identity
The attention given to our identities has had mixed results. Yes, there seemed to be more bigotry in 2016 than in recent years past, but there has also been more attention given to the complex intersections and divides between race, sexuality, gender, and ethnicity. I’ve seen multiple rallies on campus regarding identity, and a common thread I’ve noticed between them is people of all creeds coming to these events. It just goes to show that students of various backgrounds, whether affected by an issue or not, made the effort in 2016 to understand the impact that identity has had on their peers’ lives. As a minority, I’ve always felt that Iowa has been very inclusive, both through the events hosted by the Center for Diversity and Enrichment and through the mutually positive interactions I’ve had with my peers. Even if you aren’t a minority, the Iowa City Foreign relations council hosts monthly events that often deal with ethnicity and race, and there are speakers that come to the university to discuss similar topics as well. Continuing this trend in 2017 is something I find important in breaking down the emotional barriers that were built up in the previous year, and, from experience, I can say that the events that bring us together on these issues have been genuinely fun.

2. The challenging of ideas on college campuses
There has been a lot of criticism over safe spaces, trigger warnings, and other institutions that seek to protect students from unwanted speech, some of which has been good while others have been self-defeating. The problem with a lot of the “bad” conversations is that they tend to focus on the words themselves without any analysis of the many different things that they mean. Priding one’s self on being strictly “pro” or “anti” pc liberalism is counterproductive. Instead of lumping the critics and the supporters into one public enemy, try forming opinions on the individual actions you see on campus. There are protests, rallies, and trigger warnings at the University of Iowa, and there are conversations about controversial issues in our classrooms. Which ones are effective, and which ones aren’t? Beyond that, why do some situations enrage people, as ineffective as they are? Humanities courses are typically where these subjects come up, and while I only took one humanities course last semester, I’ve read a lot of articles about censorship on college campuses. There seems to be a real problem, and being in college makes what’s at stake feel pressing. If we truly value the spirit of debate, something I find unique to academia, then we should focus more on changing the systems in place as opposed to beating the other side into submission. Doing the latter only strengthens the legitimacy of the concern that students are far too sheltered from unwanted opinions.

3. The Enthusiasm for politics
Every time I check Facebook, I find an article that makes me think about a new political perspective. Even after the election, I still witness political discussions on campus, although the presence of politically-affiliated organizations is more limited. Our politics may be messy, but at least we can’t be accused of being apathetic to it. We are all apathetic to individual issues, however, and cling to issues that are looked over by the people we disagree with. I’m going to take 2017 as a challenge to show people I disagree with my point of view without sounding elitist or accusatory. Something I’ve learned from 2016 is that, even if someone has an opinion that enrages you, if you trace the source of their own anger down to its roots you’ll find a rage that is justified in its own right. That’s not to say that every choice of words is justified, but I hope that having empathy will help me make points without the inflammatory, circular arguments that arise from assumptions about someone’s privilege or knowledge on the subject.

In short, the new year doesn’t mean a completely clean slate, and that’s a good thing. It’s hard to ignore all of the evidence suggesting that we had a lot of things to be proud of in 2016, and hopefully we’ve learned from the things that we weren’t so proud of. I recognize that it’s easy to forget about how we fit into the big picture when stressed out about classes and dealing with the day-to-day issues of life, but there are always little reminders from time to time that keep me aware
of the impact that I’m making on others. So, the next time you feel isolated and insignificant to what’s happening in our world, remember that there’s a lot of things in your own environment that you can change, and that those decisions will determine how awesome 2017 will be for you more than anything else.