Last September, our university made significant progress by moving from the 39th to the 22nd position in the US News Ranking of the Best Liberal Art Colleges in the country. Soka also lands at #1 in Study Abroad and #2 in Faculty Resources. However, statistics alone cannot tell the whole story. When evaluating a college, we should also take into consideration the extent to which it achieves its mission statement. Does a national ranking mean that the university succeeds in achieving its goal to “foster a steady stream of global citizens who committed to living a contributive life”?
The core value of Soka—pursuing a peaceful culture—somehow contributes to a lack of engagement in the community. This issue was reflected in the First-Year Class Senate election this year. In comparison to the rising tension in the US political climate, our election could not have been more “peaceful.” Candidates weren’t required to give speeches about their plans. No campaigns or lobbies were launched. The process only required an application that was put in a booklet and sent to all the first-year students. Students were given one week for online voting—and then the new officers were announced.
The silence of the process surprised me. In my high school in Vietnam, to run for student council, we had to run campaigns and give presentations about our plans to win votes from students and teachers. Here, an election for the most critical student organization was unexpectedly quiet.
I’d argue that one of the unexpected results of the peace culture is that students become silent and passive when it becomes necessary to speak personal opinions. As we do not want to be excluded from the community or be seen as “too aggressive,” we easily come to an agreement even if it is not what we really think. The pressure to please other people and maintain a peaceful atmosphere makes us hesitant to express ourselves and fight for what we believe. We want to be “global citizens,” but we stop at the border of disagreement because we are afraid that we will cause trouble if we cross that boundary. How can multi-cultural understanding be developed without the clash of ideas and interactive debates? How can truth and progress can be achieved if everyone is not willing to speak up?
From the bottom of my heart, I do not regret choosing Soka as my college. I understand the importance of pacifism to the world. However, we cannot have a “happy peace” on campus without encouraging freedom of idea-exchanging and structural discourses. As life goes on, conflicts are unavoidable. The best way to solve them is not by ignoring them, but by seriously discussing them to find a solution that works for the community.