Sara Vanden Berge

I remember when I was a young college student and thought radical activism would change the world. One of my favorite professors, an outspoken advocate for women’s issues, gave a fiery speech about women’s rights and a woman’s personal responsibility to push forward the female agenda.

“We should all be taking to the streets,” she said, pumping her fist in the air. “We should be turning over cars and setting them on fire. Whatever it takes to get people’s attention!”

That was my ‘“A-ha” moment. As she threw a right hook into the air, the angels broke out in song, the clouds parted and a ray of sunshine beamed down upon my desk, illuminating a new path I was destined to travel.

From that moment on - and into the next several years - I morphed into a bit of a radical, dishing about women’s rights to anyone who would listen.

I never set anything on fire, mostly because I was afraid of going to jail, but I did wear out a lot of people by constantly talking about the need for change, and how, if people would only listen to me and others, women would finally break through that proverbial glass ceiling and never again serve potpie to hairy, ungrateful men.

But my rallying cry for change backfired. Mainly because my approach was all wrong.

One of the problems was that I was young and didn’t understand that grownups respond better to reason than passion.

In my quest to be heard, my rants were often misinterpreted by people who assumed I was a man-hating, suit-wearing, she-dude. (OK. I hope that is a wild exaggeration, but you get the picture.)

What I really was (and still am) is a woman who likes being female, but who also loves the challenge of working outside the home, the feeling of success and bringing home a little extra pocket change.

At the end of the day, I go home, make dinner for my family and finish the laundry - just like millions of other women across America.

Trouble was, there were lots of people who didn’t see me as an ordinary woman and lumped me the into the over-the-top category, a message I had no doubt conveyed.

As I worked by way of aggression to make the world a softer, more compassionate place to live, I had unwittingly irritated the masses and kept those whose minds I wanted to change from hearing me out.

I wish now that my former professor would have inspired me in a more grown up fashion. I wish she would have gently urged me to take a kinder path and whispered in my ear that an approach that offends the masses would never work, despite my good intentions.

For the past couple of weeks, “Corpus Christi,” a play many deemed offensive, made the news both locally and beyond. Tarleton State University became the center of attention and took a punch in the nose for backing one student’s decision to move forward with a play that many people objected to. About 12 hours before Saturday’s 8 a.m. show time, the university issued a short press release stating that the play had been canceled and would not be rescheduled.

It was a resounding and long-overdue thud that ended a two-week frenzy that could have been avoided had that statement been issued sooner. For reasons that remain unclear to many, Tarleton officials repeatedly held fast to the idea that the play was an issue of freedom of speech and said the show would go on despite strong objections from hundreds of community members, Christian organizations, alumni and even parents of potential students.

All the while, those watching and reporting on the spectacle kept scratching their heads and wondering: Where are all the grownups?

Since when did it become a good idea to allow one student to cause so much harm? When the uproar first began, someone should have pulled this young lad aside and given him a lesson in decorum. He should have been told that just because you have the “right” to do something doesn’t mean you should. Someone should have talked to him about the importance of freedom of speech and the responsibility that accompanies that right. He should have been told that sometimes you change directions for the greater good.

I suspect in this case, had a grownup intervened and said to the student, “I think you need to make a better choice. Our community finds this offensive and we need to respect their wishes,” a whole lot of damage would have been avoided.

And that’s a sentiment I believe most grownups would agree with.

Sara Vanden Berge is the managing editor of the Empire-Tribune. She can be reached at 254-968-2379 ext. 240.