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  • Writer's pictureTashroom Ahsan

A Reflection on Self-Governance

Nunnian education cultivates fertility. For months, I spent hours every day raising hay. I then fed this hay to young cows. These yearlings would stay with me all spring, pushing out their first children into my hands. The environment itself fostered the conditions for birth. New life created the conditions for spontaneity. The playful nature of these new beings flourished across the ranch and into our college. Fertility scented the rooms in which we conducted self-governance.

I sought to take advantage of the freedom fertility offers. I wanted to play. For much of my time at Deep Springs, I wanted to render the political sphere as an interesting space. I wanted novelty. I brought motions to alter the structures of student body governance. I created more social media for ComCom and designed new publications. I helped articulate the purpose of the academic pillar in the Letter on Seminar for CurCom. I wrote a vaccine exemption, intentionally convoluted enough to never be used, for CovidCom. None of this felt particularly important; I simply wanted us to take advantage of our own power to test the limits of what we could do. In constructing a playful political sphere, I shielded myself from the vulnerability necessary for political sincerity. My motions passed but brought me no closer to my peers. They were pleasant and memorable. They were not impactful. Our actions were concerted, insofar as we did them together. But political playfulness maintains insincere individuals, incapable of genuine communal care.

I was first politically sincere in a committee I had no part in. ApCom, responsible for admitting students, did things I disapproved of. During my first year, I listened to my white peers fetishize people of color and masochistically flagellate themselves for their affluent white backgrounds. At the time, I felt anger. I grew to resent my white peers, engaging with them less and less in the dorms, in class, and in SB. The bubble burst for me when their admitted class contained nearly no white students, which I, ironically, found problematic. I found it ironic that white guilt and bias manifested itself in such a way; I found it funny that I, as the only American student of color in my class, was effectively excluded from my white peers who wanted to bring in a bunch of people of color. I called them out, writing a document about how they fetishize differences and their judgment is skewed. I helped write Deep Springs’s DEI statement, which I found and still find laughably inactionable. I did what I felt compelled to do.

Some change occurred; the admitted class shifted; the DEI statement is up. I got plenty of apologies and was lauded for being “brave.” But I was just as atomized from the community as before. I felt as though my actions were continually read by my white peers in a tone of resentment. From their perspective, I was implicating them for being white. From my perspective, I was speaking to a deep feeling of hypocrisy, and to the injustice which I felt was embedded in the myopic actions they took in the name of justice. Although actions were taken, a complete breakdown of empathy ensued.

In sincere governance, where we came together to enact change that mattered through admissions of vulnerability, we forgot about our shared humanity. Our procreation degraded us to each other. Yet when we engaged in governance that was guided by meaningless play, we failed to come together and be vulnerable. Play and sincerity in governance felt at odds to me; in rearing my two different kinds of children, my partners struck me in two different ways.

At the heart of these two strikes, and the ultimate drawback and power of self-governance, is the problem of accountability. Self-governance demands accountability, but invites play. Play enables an avoidance of accountability. Accountability towards them bred my vulnerability towards my white peers; accountability towards myself distanced me from them. In telling them my thoughts, I bared my values. I declared myself righteously and let them judge me for it. They judged me, baring themselves back, and we knew each other nakedly—yet resented one another for our minds. How could accountability, or holding each other to their actions, be held in a constructive way? This question lives through governance. In our collective action, we are held to account for our part in rearing our relations to one another. We are capable of incredible intimacy in our shared potential, disclosing our nearest values. But that intimacy can keep us at a great distance.

The intimacy I held with others through sincere self-governance enabled great fertility in my own mind. The weight of being held to myself by others pushed me to speculate, constantly, on how one might live well with proximal strangers. Governance succeeded when I brought a motion to temporarily make our student body a republic. The idea only came to me because I wanted to explore what it would mean to speak to be heard, rather than simply speak and hope you are heard. Political playfulness moved me to desire political sincerity. We gathered on the South Porch one cold night. I was the only one who liked my motion. But we talked, and somehow we spoke to each other—under the influence of political sincerity, minds were changed. We all moved closer together. I spoke of the true merits I felt the motion have; I spoke from my core; I touched others who engaged with me. The motion passed, and governance was fun for the republic. I want to hold this fertility and political sincerity in me. It can atomize in the most painful manner, but enables the most tender of intellectual play.

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