The Skidmore Culture War

Posted by Alex Hodor-Lee

Most government majors at Skidmore read Morris Fiorino's "The American Culture War." In it Fiorino describes a nation plagued by a false epidemic: the perception of political binary.

Fiorino argues that Americans take cues from elites, pols and media, arguing that polarized elites and fierce bipartisanship between Democrats and Republicans is creating an overly-pronounced and mythologized schism in America.

One good example Fiorino points to is the 2008 election, in which many Americans were forced to choose between electing the first African-American President or a war hero who branded himself as a hardline conservative to appeal to his Republican base. But let's for a second imagine if Colin Powell, an African-American moderate, was running for president. In considering a third and more centrist option we may recognize that in fact Americans are not so different; and we may actually celebrate our similarities.

This type of cultural chasm, caused by polarizing options is reflected in the culture of our college.

These first weeks hundreds of freshman will be forced to choose between eating meals--an act that forges friendships and camaraderie--on the red side or blue side of our dining hall.

When I transferred to Skidmore, I was immediately struck by our dining hall (my last institution boasted an aggressively plain, beige mess hall). With a wide-eyed expression that made clear my immigrant status, I was told in no uncertain terms that "jocks" sit on the blue side and that "hipsters" dine on the red side.

As a freshman, trying to navigate this new home, locate your identity, and carve out your niche, choosing sides can unwittingly consign you down one social path, closing you off to another side of Skidmore.

But let's consider the Fiorino model for our dining hall. Engage in a mental experiment in which we triangulate a third, or "purple" side into our dining hall. Or imagine that the entire dining hall was painted green or yellow (our actual school colors). We may find that we more naturally integrate (in some places they call this phenomenon "progress"). 

And even if it turned out that athletes still gathered by the television, and "artsy kids" by the vegetarian bar, the dynamic would at least be organic, and any culture war would not be validated by the college's decision to make one half red and one half blue; people would be judged not by the color of their table, but the content of their character. Most importantly, we may diffuse this specious myth about where certain types of people should sit. In fact, we might actually become closer as a student body.

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