Opinion: Dragged kicking and screaming into the culture wars

Remote conferencing / Getty Images
Remote conferencing / Getty Images

For those of you who think the culture wars do not affect regular people, I am here to tell you they do.

I am currently attending graduate school as a remote student at a non-Missouri state school. That means I take 100% of my classes online. Recently I received an email telling me that a requirement of graduation is that I participate in a mandatory Bystander Training. I was informed that I was required to take this training and it was being offered over Zoom. There was to be no discussion. No exceptions. If I wanted to graduate, I needed to attend the training.

The bystander training consisted of a lecture of sorts on interpersonal violence and steps bystanders can take to prevent it. The school's website under the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center described the training as this: "Intervention starts with understanding interpersonal violence. This handout will discuss how to recognize warning signs, identify effective intervention techniques, process barriers to intervention, and connect students with interpersonal violence resources. Students will evaluate their role at the university as potential bystanders and learn how to create safer spaces within their community."

Unlike other modules I have taken before, this was a live event on Zoom. If we logged out of Zoom before the training was over, we would not receive our certificate, which again, I need in order to obtain my diploma. After the lecture portion, we were shown videos of fellow students engaged in social situations. Students were then assigned breakout rooms to discuss intervention tactics.

Let me be clear about the scenarios we were presented: None of them included someone being actively abused. Not one of them presented children being abused by an adult. None of them showed anyone breaking a law. They were softer, requiring a personal judgment.

Here was one scenario. While at a party, you notice Susie drinking heavily and talking to John. A few minutes later, John invites Susie upstairs. The video stops, and Zoom participants were instructed to discuss ways to stop whatever might happen from happening. The clincher was that we were truly bystanders who did not know Susie or John. There were other similar scenarios.

All I want to do is pay my tuition, learn from my classes, study hard, and graduate with a master's degree. Now I was forced to spend 120 minutes of my time listening to someone else's social agenda.

Universities and colleges employ subject matter experts and teach the next generation skill sets. They historically have encouraged free thought and critical thinking. This training not only tried to tell me how to think but also how to act.

There is an old saying that you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. In this context I would change it to say you can require a student to Zoom but you can't make her think.

I look forward to tapping out of the culture wars again.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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