Not long ago, I attended a University Senate meeting which discussed the progress made by a task force regarding the implementation of a campus-wide smoking policy. Now, being all adults, there’s little incentive to play adults. Or so I thought. Unless, of course, we’re uncomfortable within our shell or self, your choice.
Anyway, there I was listening to a grown-up telling us how the University would implement its voluntary policy asking smokers to smoke only in designated places. I thought I could bear the nonsense in silence. I even took out my smart phone to start reading emails and answer those which could be answered or needed to be answered right away. But people in the audience started asking questions, as if both the questions and the answered thus elicited mattered.
This seriously absurd exercise in Ionescu-ian theater caught my inborn curiosity on fire. First, I stared at the projected map containing the designated smoking spots. Apparently, they were supposed to be outside a specific area located a specific number of feet away from buildings of education or buildings where education was supposed to take place…something with education and smoking….
Now, that sounded very interesting, because most of my education took place with people smoking around me, and even worse, with myself smoking many many cigarettes. So, there I was listening.
Has the committee measured the distance between the entrance to the building and the designated spot?
Yes it has.
And it follows the policy.
I have measured it myself, and it is not 20 ft away from the entrance.
Bang. Question answered. Another hand raised.
Are e-cigarettes covered by the policy?
Yes, they are.
Bang. Question answered. Another hand raised.
Why are e-cigarettes covered by the policy? What harm can e-cigarettes do to bystanders or whomever the policy is meant to protect?
Because the senate voted so.
Bang. Another answer. Another hand raised.
Why don’t we declare the campus as non-smoking?
Because the senate voted not to.
I’ll stop saying bang. But that’s how I felt.
How can we expect this policy be respected if we do not enforce it?
The question was asked by a student and it was rhetorical, so it got no answerd.
Another hand raised. Mine.
“If we insist in having this policy, why don’t we start addressing the reasons people smoke. As a former smoker I can tell you that one reason young people smoe is because they think it’s cool and grown-up. So, has the committee thought about beautifying those smoking places and make them attractive, andn “cool” so people would enjoy smoking there, thus complying with the policy?
Bang. What a question! I was enjoying my achievement when a lady, or just someone in a skirt-suit, far more serious than me, and far more important than me because she was sitting next to the presenter at the table facing the amphitheater, asked me:
Are you a senator? Are you supposed to be participating in discussions?
Now, that’s a question of my liking. If I was supposed to talk. I have never been asked that question as a child or grown up ever. People have always shown interest in my talking so I was pleased to reply to the somber sad sounding grown-up:
Yes, I was invited to the meeting and discussion, though I am not a senator.
While I was talking she must have realized that she sounded non-academic, and she went on the same KGB-paved route, and asked me to identify myself, which again I enjoy because I’ve always known the answer to that question. Furthermore, my name has a foreign vibe and I terribly savor the intellectual frisson it usually causes.
During our lady-like exchange, the public started showing traits of humanity or just stretching. Some might have also noticed that the only interesting question, mine, was received with non-academic fear that, perhaps, it would expose the nakedness of the emperor – or the absurd policy, whichever came first. I was not attacking the policy. I was pointing out how it could be enforced, by making smoking more attractive than it already was to young people.
And right before I ended I added. Again for fun.
“And don’t worry I would never crush a party.”
Bang. My bang.
To make matters more interesting, the person who presented the rapport and who answered questions when allowed, added that the committee was considering how to beautify those spaces, if only to make them functional during sunny or rainy days.
And then the raised hands only commented on how hard the committee worked and how great their achievement was, distracting or derailing the conversation but also bringing it to an end, so I could go back to my smart phone and my emails.
At home, when I was relating this story to my hubby, during dinner, my eyes fell on the newspaper he had read and discarded on the floor. It was open on the op-ed page. A piece discussed the virtues of another campus policy, a more serious and scarier one. In Idaho, state legislators were considering allowing students to pack heat in their backpacks, in addition or instead of books and pens. Now, that was a policy which did not require cool places to become attractive to students.
But that was a policy which required a discussion about the coolness of voting, whether some things should not become the object of voting if those who vote are half asleep or worse unable to understand the issues they vote in favor of — instead of against.