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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Un-Welcome Bridge

On a Thursday afternoon one week ago, I spent a very pleasant hour sipping fruit-infused water and devouring delectable desserts at a reception in the Thelma P. Bando Lounge of Harper-Tubman Hall.  While I would like to say that I always spend my Thursdays in such a civilized fashion, alas, this is not the case.  The occasion on this fine afternoon was a celebration in honor of Women’s History Month and in particular, some of the many women who helped shaped the history of Morgan and Maryland.

Between bites of simply scrumptious red velvet cupcake, I learned a great deal about the remarkable women whose lives touched or were touched by Fair Morgan.  I did not know, for instance, that the Welcome Bridge is named for a real person – in this case, Verda Welcome, a 1939 graduate of Morgan State College and the first Black woman in the United States to be elected to a state senate seat.

This new bit of knowledge added an interesting layer to my long-standing fascination with the Welcome Bridge.  I have always regarded the bridge as more than a mere concrete and steel passageway connecting the two halves of campus.  To me, it is the nexus between the University’s academic enterprise and the mysterious realm of the undergraduate – not unlike the Bifröst in Norse mythology.  It is a marvelous place where on any given day one can hear the symphony of the world’s tongues, bitter complaints about instructors, the trials, tribulations, and endless possibilities of friendship and romance, earnest negotiations with parents, the latest music, and a thousand other things – including some of the foulest language ever to be spat into the air. 

I am, to be sure, no stranger to colorful language.  I can hold my own with sailors; and I even own a wonderful little volume about the etiquette of swearing.  But there is just something shocking about hearing curse words flow with such ease from the mouths of people half my age.  I understand the value of using certain words for emphasis; but does every other word need to be of the four-letter variety?  If asterisks were to suddenly become visible, the air above the Welcome Bridge would be choked with them.

I suppose I could decry this situation as yet another sign of the decline and fall of modern civilization, or at the very least, Reason #821 to be disappointed in (or afraid of) the rising generation.  But doing so would not be useful.  As much as I desire civility in speech as well as in action, I am perhaps even more devoted to the exercise of free speech.  This is one of the many cherished ideals of the University.  Therefore, it is absolutely essential that we do not weaken or destroy it through casual neglect.  Our parents and teachers are correct: careless speech is a sign of an undisciplined mind.  And an undisciplined mind can be controlled by someone else.

You might think that I have made quite a leap from a few swear words to the dystopian world of 1984.  Perhaps I am crashing from the sugar rush of those cupcakes.  But why take the risk?  We have it within ourselves to express our thoughts and emotions in ways that do not demean, frighten, or offend our fellow humans.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we owe it to Verda Welcome to make the effort.