When, chest puffed out with pride, my father told a law partner his first-born was accepted to Bryn Mawr College, this was the immediate response: "Isn't that the place where they don't shave their underarms and dance naked around the Maypole?"
Daddy's friend had it partly right: We danced around that blessed Maypole fully clothed.
But there was some truth to the suggestion that there were things that mattered more to a Mawrter than aesthetics, and that would be our devotion to academics and feminism. There was a definite emphasis on the so-called "cussed individualism" that was the motto and mantra of the undergraduate, except if that individualism involved being a pro-life conservative, in which case you were just "cussed out." In fact, as I told a friend the other day, I entered college as a fairly apolitical moderate and was radicalized to the right by what I saw as a very single-minded push to the left.
Fair enough, I haven't given them any money since I graduated, and they haven't asked me back to lecture on the politics of Ann Coulter. Still, I have a soft spot in my heart for the strong education I received at that elite Seven Sisters institution and the friendships formed in those halcyon years.
So when I saw this week that a bunch of Bryn Mawr students were joining forces with their Haverford counterparts and marching down Lancaster Avenue to protest the "white supremacist cops" in the Lower Merion Police Department, I shook my head and thought: They must really be lowering the SAT requirements for admission. More to the point, it appears that an affirmative-action program has been implemented for students without frontal lobes.
I can see the recruitment materials now: "Missing 30 percent of your brain? Consider Bryn Mawr, a diverse community that welcomes people of all races, creeds and cerebral deformities."
As you can tell, I am not particularly impressed with the social justice engagement of the precious little pop tarts who decided to skip class to march - 40 people strong! - down a Main Line thoroughfare to let the suburban police department that keeps them safe know it is nothing but a ritzy extension of the KKK. Amid chants of "No justice, no peace, no racist police" and "We are protesting the fascist movement that is coalescing around Donald Trump," one protester then made sure to announce that "This is a ... respectful protest."
Tell that to the fascist police.
I'm getting a little tired of the totalitarian metaphors and comparisons that have cropped up in the wake of last week's election. It's really the sign of a lazy mind and makes you question the analytical abilities of the speaker. Recently, some have compared the admittedly gross and bigoted Steve Bannon to Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's chief of propaganda. That's silly and disrespectful to the Jews murdered in the Holocaust. I've read Bannon's stuff from Breitbart, and while I find him to be repellent, nothing he's written comes close to calling for the extermination of entire races of people. I wrote a column about the man and his anti-Catholic rhetoric last summer, so I know he is offensive and sometimes vicious in his rhetorical stylings. Frankly, I'd like it if he weren't in Trump's inner circle. But again, the comparison to Goebbels is as shallow as they come.
Which brings me back to the little intercollegiate tots at Bryn Mawr, Haverford and the third prong of the Tri-College community, Swarthmore. I read that those from Swarthmore boycotted classes to express their sympathy with the immigrants Trump will round up on Jan. 21 and deport en masse back to Mexico (even the ones born in Bangladesh and Algeria, because he's all about saving money.) And I laughed, rather bitterly.
Excuse me, but those kids at these elite institutions have a hell of a nerve pretending they know anything about the plight of immigrants, particularly those who have been persecuted. I might be generalizing here, but anyone who can afford hundreds of thousands of dollars to attend these institutions has not faced the barrel of a gun held by a gang member, has not been subject to female genital mutilation, did not have to cross a border to find a job so his mother and father or children wouldn't starve and didn't have to disguise herself as a Muslim to escape her West African country so they wouldn't find out she was a Christian and kill her.
Maybe a few of those undergrads at Bryn Mawr, Haverford and Swarthmore are scholarship students with part-time jobs; maybe some of them actually did grow up in countries where they had a 50-50 chance of making it to adulthood, and maybe some of them will be in debt until they are 112 to be able to finish paying off their tuition. (I'm thinking a fairly large percent fall into that category.)
But I doubt the kids marching down Lancaster Avenue or cutting their "radical women's theory" classes have ever experienced the type of fear, persecution and horrors three young women I know suffered in Guatemala. Those three sisters watched as their grandfather was gunned down in the street and were threatened with death if they acted as witnesses against the gang bangers. They were prevented from going to Mass because the gangs don't like devout Christians; they were forced to cross two countries in buses and then on foot and risk all sorts of physical dangers to escape a living hell. This week, a judge finalized their request for asylum.
I know you're probably thinking this is exactly why those privileged Main Line kids were marching - because they hate Trump, his harsh immigration rhetoric and probable future policies. As someone who deals with it in the trenches, who has spent the week fielding calls from terrified people and who will spend more time in churches trying to calm some of those fears, I respect that desire to reach out.
But excuse me if I have a hard time believing these millennials have any real idea about what "white supremacy," "persecution" and "social injustice" is and who Goebbels even was.
To me, it looks like a group of rabble-rousers looking for a cause, a protest in search of itself, a bunch of L.L. Bean boots on pathetic parade.
Yeah, Bannon is not a nice guy. Yeah, Trump is making a bit of a mishmash of his transition (please God, please, not Sarah Palin for Interior Secretary). Yeah, college is a time to spread your wings and develop a social conscience.
But looking for white supremacists at Starbucks and thinking that missing a few classes will make the world safe for immigrants is laughable and only slightly more annoying than having to explain that whole Maypole thing 30 years later. It gets cold out there; we wore dresses. Subject closed.
Christine M. Flowers
Philadelphia Daily News