The American Dissident: Literature, Democracy & Dissidence

Misguided Leadership, Donuts, and the First Amendment

A report in the financial section of the News & Record left me wondering if I were dreaming.

Indeed, my first reaction to the story reporting on poet Maya Angelou and Bennett College President Johnnetta Cole's encouraging Bennett students, so many of whom obese, to ``power walk'' down to the new Krispy Kreme franchise in east Greensboro was to sketch a cartoon satirizing the event. I was going to post it on the Humanities bulletin board at Bennett College, but decided not to, fearful not so much of the hostility it might provoke, but rather the silence.

Perhaps Bennett's leaders, instead of promoting Krispy Kreme doughnuts, ought to heed the warning of former black U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher: ``We have an obesity epidemic. There are whole wards in hospitals that deal only with diabetes in children.'' Perhaps they ought examine Derrick Z. Jackson’s “Too many Blacks are Overweight” (News & Record, 10/17), where the black columnist states, “In the national epidemic of obesity, no single group symbolizes it more than African Americans.” Even more pertinent to Bennett, he notes, “While 57 percent of white women are overweight, 77 percent of African American women are overweight.”

Obesity kills and WILL kill some of my college students!  It is as deadly to one's health as cigarette smoking! It is URGENT that the problem be resolved, not worsened with leadership-encouraged doughnut walks.

Many of my students at Bennett huff and puff climbing to the second floor. Learning takes energy. Many lack that energy because of obesity. Yes, obesity is a serious, perhaps the most serious, problem at Bennett, yet I have heard not a word about it. I even brought the problem up to a colleague, but she advised: Don't bring it up!

Our colleges and universities ought be bastions of free speech and expression, yet they are not. To survive and thrive in such institutions, one must be willing to respect the taboos restricting First Amendment rights. Professors, often consumed with job security, keep their pens and mouths shamefully tame and lame, and would mock, rather than congratulate, the rare colleague who chooses not to respect those taboos. For them, such questioning and challenging is nothing but superfluous luxury.

The reality is that educationists everywhere have been pushing self-esteem building to the extreme at the expense of truth, hard work, improvement and, in the case of Krispy Kreme doughnuts, physical health. Whatever the false sense of feel-good pride drilled into an obese person's mind, he or she will always feel not quite right. One of my students mentioned that they actually glorify overweight students at Bennett. Perhaps administrators ought examine that contention.

For Bennett College, survival has become an institutional preoccupation... and funeral pall on the First Amendment. The reigning ambiance is Bennett, Love It or Leave It… and Certainly Do Not Criticize It. But I for one cannot seem to abstain, feeling it my duty as an educator to criticize.

Perhaps educationists would wish to place “obesity” next to “niggardly” on the growing list of prohibited vocabulary. If only they'd focus instead on the wisdom of Jamaica Kincaid: “Express everything you like. No word can hurt you.  None.  No idea can hurt you. Not being able to express an idea or a word will hurt you much more.  As much as a bullet. [...] A lot of energy is wasted on these superficial things [speech codes]... I can't get upset about 'offensive to women' or 'offensive to blacks' or 'offensive to native Americans' or 'offensive to jews'...  Offend!  I can't get worked up about it. Offend!”

Now, why doesn't Project Homestead enter into a partnership with a health food store, instead of a cholesterol factory? And why doesn’t Dr. Cole begin a precedent in higher education and encourage dissent. Mindless positivism, endless self-congratulations, and sheep-like conformity do not belong in higher education. We discovered via Enron that they do not belong in the corporation either.