Keep a reign on cultural sensitivity; keep the Kiva

Tony Cox

As I promised in my last column, I will now discuss the second troubling piece that I found in the March 14 edition of the Daily Kent Stater. The item that caught my attention was a front-page article that detailed the Faculty Senate’s decision to drop the name “Kiva” from the Student Center auditorium, as the word is also used to describe some sort of American Indian worship facility.

Apparently, the Faculty Senate thought that continuing to call the facility by its given name would be an unbearable affront to Native American/Indian/Amerindian/whatever culture, so they decided to drop it. Consequently, the Kiva is no longer the Kiva.

The idea was cooked up by Thomas Norton-Smith, an associate professor of philosophy at the Stark campus, whose favorite pastimes include railing against the mascot of the Cleveland Indians and complaining about the university’s lack of support for the Native American Student Association’s annual Powwow – which I know from experience to be one of the most poorly attended student-funded events on the Kent State calendar.

It occurs to me that the Faculty Senate could not have possibly debated a less important issue, and the only foreseeable effect will be the confusion of people who are used to calling the Kiva by its original name. I also find it puzzling why Norton-Smith decided to get so upset at this particular point in time. The place has been called “the Kiva” for a number of years, and Norton-Smith has been a faculty member for some time. So why the outrage now? Maybe the professor has realized that people are sick of hearing about Chief Wahoo, so he had to come up with an alternative way to make his agenda seem relevant.

While I understand the desire to show an ordinate amount of deference when it comes to cultural issues, there is the possibility of going too far. Take, for instance, the recent happenings at Harvard. Larry Summers, the university’s former president, was forced to step down from his post when he made some politically incorrect comments about why women don’t have a strong a presence in the mathematical and scientific fields. Summers suggested the possibility that the gap might be explained by inherent differences between the sexes.

In no way did Summers suggest that men were smarter than women, nor did he suggest that women were incapable of success in math and science. He was simply pointing out the possibility that – gasp! – men and women are naturally endowed with different abilities. Not better or worse, just different. Predictably, the Harvard community did not subject this perfectly reasonable hypothesis to further inquiry; rather, students and professors immediately took Summers for a misogynist and called for his head.

When I reflected on this occurrence, I couldn’t simply let the actions of Norton-Smith and the Faculty Senate pass without comment. Admittedly, the name given to the Student Center auditorium is of little consequence to the quality of education at Kent State. They could call it the Bada-Bing for all I care. But if this cultural hypersensitivity is allowed to persist and grow among faculty members, it probably won’t be long before Kent State is dealing with a Larry Summers episode of its own. Then we’d really have an issue worth arguing about.

Tony Cox is a senior philosophy major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]