Published: Sunday, February 19, 2012
Updated: Monday, February 20, 2012 01:02
Conscientious consumerism" means a whole slew of things in today's world. It is both responsible and ethical to know where your food comes from, who made the clothes you are wearing and under what conditions, and to consider the public political stances of who you buy from.
Furman University is an educational institution, sure, but it is also a collective body that represents each one of us. Furman is striving for a more diverse student body in many ways, and goes to great lengths to bring people of differing opinions, backgrounds, and ambitions. But to what extent does Furman carry forth these differing perspectives in relation to its own consumerism?
On many counts, Furman strives to be a conscientious consumer. Through the Shi Center, efforts by individual academic departments, and other such sustainability initiatives, Furman is one of the most "green" campuses in the south. Additionally, SGA attempts to distribute funds equally to differing student groups on campus so as not to advocate one particular viewpoint over another.
However, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus came to Greenville. FUSAB felt that students would enjoy reduced-cost tickets to the circus, and organized an event to facilitate a small group of students to attend. The event "passed" through FUSAB's meeting without a second thought, and was moved to the back burner until the circus drew nearer.
Two weeks before the circus, Furman for Animal Rights (FAR) president Amy Adams was contacted by PETA to organize a protest against the circus. FAR's faculty advisor discouraged the group from formally backing the event, as Furman did not want to represent itself in any way that might be controversial in the greater Greenville community.
Adams resolved to organize protesters on behalf of PETA. The week before the circus was to premiere, both FUSAB and Adams began publicizing their ‘events'. Bulletin boards around campus featured both pro-circus and anti-cruelty posters. Within a few days, most of these posters had been ripped down and torn to shreds.
Several crucial issues are brought to light by this series of events. In one view, Furman's mission with the activities board is to provide opportunities for student's to take part in events of a non-academic nature, both on and off campus. Additionally, FUSAB attempts to provide events geared to all sectors and interests of the student body.
From FAR's perspective, however, there are serious moral issues at stake with the purchase of these tickets. As Furman was opposed to association with the protest and funded the purchase of these tickets, it would appear that the institution is not taking a neutral stance on the issue.
FUSAB's president Tyler Wilson addressed the protest in relation to FUSAB. He said in an interview that the aim of his organization is to facilitate student involvement in activities in which interest is expressed. He emphasized that the ticket purchase was not a judgment call from FUSAB, but rather an attempt to provide an enjoyable experience to some students.
Wilson pointed out that all minutes for FUSAB meetings are posted on Student News each week, and that meetings are open for any Furman student to attend.
Had there been a push against purchasing these tickets, it is highly likely that they would not have been purchased. As it were, this issue was not a consideration when the event was passed through the board.
Adams provided some insight from her side of the issue. The protest was an attempt to provide information about the animal abuse that underlies the entertainment acts, with hopes that some of the spectators they encountered prior to the event would choose not to attend.
While I am not suggesting that FUSAB foresaw this issue when originally planning the event, I feel that as a university we need to consider these types of issues more thoughtfully. Most Furman students do not support animal abuse, yet would not consider themselves animal advocates either. There are many issues and perspectives at stake under the moral questions concerning animal use and treatment.
I strongly feel that this incident was a productive one. It opened up dialogue about the issue and challenged both students and organizations to consider moral issues as they apply to the real world. Moving forward, it is important that we consider these issues more deeply and voice our opinions in a timely fashion.