In response to collegiate petitions

Complaining is an art that needs to be taught


Complaining is the pinnacle of expression. It is the affirmation of consummation and the explication of revelation. Whether or not complaints are valid, it is essential to the process of a democratic society that an appropriate and unfettered method of self advocacy be protected and preserved against degradation. For many, the device through which such grievances are erred is the petition.

A petition is a powerful instrument both for the righteous rebuker and for the unreasonable objector. A public declaration of one’s stance concerning a particular perceived wrong, an appropriate call to action, and the ability of the accused to respond as necessary, are all foundational necessities to free speech and articulation. Where the petition falls short of effectiveness is often not the strength of charges being laid, but the clarity and presentation of the concerns being voiced.

A petition is not only about the number of signatures lent in concurrence. How one voices their opinion is of equal importance to the amount of solidarity they engender. How can the accused understand what one is saying if they can’t read the letter they are sent? Is it not the responsibility of the complainer, not the complainee, to impactfully communicate not only the issue itself, but the breadth and depth of said issue? If the argument is muddled by an unclear or unfocused voice, how can it be properly tested for validity or veracity?

The author must be dutiful and disciplined in composing a complaint. The censure must be straightforward; it must possess a natural flow and directly address a specific ill without deviation. The downfall of the impactful petition, otherwise perfect, can be the unnecessary acknowledgement of minor or unrelated additional grudges. Such auxiliary objections may be better suited to sufixial documentation. One should ask others to read a draft before officially posting their petition. In the course of review, one should ensure that the call to action is clear and identifiable, and that all statements are true and valid. Only after due diligence should a petition be posted for consideration. Finally, the petition may be viewed, challenged, revised, and supported as applicable.

These comments are made not in rebuke of those students who have bravely step forth to effect change. One would wish these individuals great success in their chosen quests. Rather, the above is meant firstly as a simple guide to those who may be uncertain of how best to be impactful in use of the petition, and secondly in observation that even those who have stepped forth and written these letters may be able to further harneiss the potential of their pleas with formal training and support.

The collegiate community, to whom this letter is primarily addressed, is comprised of thinkers and leaders; as such, it is the combined responsibility of universities and students to develop and maintain an appropriate, safe, and unencumbered avenue of self advocacy; all well and good. But if such a powerful tool as the petition is available to the enterprising revolutionary, the opportunity for catechizement should also be made available.

Who complains? Those who wish for change. Who effects change? Leaders. If students are to become strong, impactful leaders, they must be able to conceive and execute both. One method of presenting a conceived need for change is a petition. Through the interplay between parties a petition can actuate, a leader is able to take the opportunity to execute.

Universities do presently offer instruction on leadership and advocacy – of that there is little question. This letter does not represent an accusation of negligence; this is but a comment upon the current state of objection within the student community. 

Even where avenues do exist, often students are not equipped with a reasonable understanding of how to constructively voice their criticisms. In this regard, it may behoove universities to consider padding their existing programs, and conducting one or two semesterly seminars concerning formal objection. 

Universities should further consider allocating resources in order to accomodate events centered around negotiation and resolution of objectionable circumstances not just for students enrolled in leadership programs, but in service of bolstering students who would not otherwise be able to take advantage of these seminars. Although universities have vast resources through which campus events are coordinated and curated, students collectively have the power to influence and shape certain aspects of their education. 

Through partnerships with outside organizations, or by working with university administrations, a sufficiently motivated group of students can and should endeavor to attain and distribute those abilities paramount to a succinct and successful petition, where the university fails to do so. 

Through a combined effort of improving existing outlets and establishing instructional support, communication by objection on university campuses can be elevated from a primal cry of outrage, to a tactical and precise application of leadership and advocacy.

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