An administrator at Vanderbilt University doesn’t think that administration should discourage disruptive protesters-he thinks they should ‘celebrate’ them.
Chris Purcell, the Director of LGBTQI Life at Vanderbilt University, recently wrote an essay for Inside Higher Learning titled “Celebrating ‘Builders’ and ‘Burners’ in Student Activism.” In the essay, he argues that college administrators should treat ‘burner’ activism (disruptive, violent, etc.) as equal with ‘builder’ activism (traditional activism structures).
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Purcell describes burner activism as “activism that disrupts existing power structures and norm” and that seeks to “‘burn down’ oppressive structures and policies.” On the other hand, builder activism is described as working “to build new structures that work differently (often more inclusively) for one particular group of students or all students on the campus.”
“I assert each form has value and should be celebrated and supported,” he writes.
“From over a decade of observation of campus movements,” Purcell continues, “I now believe that both burning and building strategies are essential for forward progress. One seems incomplete without the other, even if they exist at different times, with different groups of students, on entirely different parts of the campus.”
He argues that there are times when administrators should encourage burner activism, such as “taking over the offices of campus leaders, shutting down streets, holding sit-ins.” Furthermore, Purcell writes that “it is wrong to narrowly reward and uplift activism that makes administration most comfortable or serves solely their needs.”
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“[W]hen oppressive structures stand in the way of creating equitable campus environments, it may be useful to solely encourage burning strategies for students to get the job done,” he continues. “That way, such administrators can be ready to pursue building strategies when the figurative ashes are clear.”
Purcell concludes his essay by encouraging administrators and college faculty to keep from a “narrowing of activism” that would stifle creativity and keep students from creating and working for a world that is “more inclusive and equitable.”
“It is our job to encourage this quest for justice, even if it challenges our power and our comfort,” he closes.
What does the office directed by Purcell actually do?
The Office of LGBTQI Life at Vanderbilt that is directed by Purcell describes itself as a “cultural center” and “place of affirmation for individuals of all identities, and a resource for information and support about gender and sexuality.” Some resources provided by the office are “pronoun guidance,” and advice for professors who want to teach “beyond the gender binary.”
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