Stockton Dystopia* A Student’s Open Letter to Its University President.

Stockton University removed this bust of its namesake, Richard Stockton in 2017.  Stockton’s Student Senate held a “trial”  and condemned Stockton for being a “slaveowner”.  Nobody defended Richard Stockton at that “trial”.  If Stockton had an advocate, this undisputed evidence would have been presented:  Stockton and his family were active Quakers.  For years they fought to end slavery in America. They often bought black slaves to give them legal protection, good clothing, and an education before freeing them. “Marcus” was the best known.  He became a pharmacist and later worked for Dr. Benjamin Rush, the best known physician in America.  In 1776, Stockton was elected to represent New Jersey in the Continental Congress.  He signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4.  That September, Richard Stockton was sent to help prepare and equip the Continental Army in upstate New York.  He was betrayed and captured on his way home.  His health was ruined by months in a cold, wet British prison.  He died less than five years later at age 50.  His son Robert Stockton became a Navy Commander who seized slave ships and freed slaves in the early 1800’s.  During the Mexican War, he was influential in keeping slavery out of California.  Stockton, California, is named after Richard Stockton’s son.
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By Ian Angotti, Atlantic City, NJ
*Dystopia.  An imagined world or society in which people lead wretched, dehumanized, fearful lives. Dystopia | Definition of Dystopia by Merriam-Webster
To Harvey Kesselman, President of Stockton University:
Ten years after I graduated High School, I arrived at Stockton’s Main Campus for the first day of my last semester. I have a unique ten year perspective of Stockton having been a student since 2012. I was here in the Campus Center’s infancy, when Chick-Fil-A through much protest was allowed to stay on campus. I was here during the cult-like “Mazel Tov” when we became a University.  I remember the “Stoboat” disaster**.  I remember your tearful “Goodbye” and then “Hello, Again”.***.  I remember the “Culture of Respect”. . . and one too many performances by the often buzzed faculty band feeling themselves a little too much.
** In 2014, Stockton University bought the closed Showboat Casino in Atlantic City for $18 million to build a second campus there.  Soon afterwards, Stockton learned that the building could not be used for that purpose and was facing financial disaster.  Philadelphia developer Bart Blatstein saved Stockton a year later by buying the empty Showboat from Stockton for $22 million.
*** In May of 2015, Harvey Kesselman announced he was leaving Stockton University as Provost and Vice-President to become President of the University of Southern Maine.  However, he was asked to stay on as acting President when Herman Saatkind resigned.  Kesselman became President of Stockton in September 2016.
This year’s walk into Stockton was vastly different, but had a familiar feeling. . . on steroids. Neatly placed and printed signs illustrated the edict to wear a mask on every single entrance. I saw a man dressed in all black just inside the doorway. I panicked and looked for my vaccination record.  It turned out he was just a student using his cell phone. Hand sanitizing stations at every turn, with a uniform “wash up” message on each of them. Every classroom with a sign giving explicit instructions for what to do if you run out of disinfectant wipes at any given moment (noting 2 numbers to call depending on the time of day). Every doorway is the same, every sign uniform, and every thought and opinion now expressed as such, the same as everyone else.
I am vaccinated and going for my third dose soon (I’m eligible in NJ as a result of a chronic condition), and I wear my mask with an admitted apprehensiveness but nonetheless general alacrity when required or see fit.
My ten year tirade is not specifically about the virus, it is about Higher Education (and Stockton more directly) and their militaristic policing of thought. It is a curious observation, as I was under the impression Higher Education was to do the opposite.
Stockton has made it clear that there will be no dissent on the matter of the virus (i.e following protocols the Government has not mandated, forcing vaccinations with no accommodations) foreshadowing what is to come. The proverbial Pandora’s box has been opened, and the freedom of thought and opinion and the lost art of nuance are degraded further. If Stockton can leverage one’s employment or education to force a healthcare choice “for the greater good”, what other situations might this apply? How about if they mandated Birth Control shots for all female students, citing it is “protecting your neighbor” and that it is “for the greater good.” While an “outrageous” illustration, it hits at the heart of the matter.
“Everyone else is doing it” has been a time honored, logical argument for not doing something since I was a child on the playground. Stockton assessed what every other institution was doing, then made a decision for mandatory vaccination, mask wearing, etc. instead of assessing the needs of their own community first. The Stockton Community could have accommodated the few who for good, conscious reasons had decided not to get vaccinated. Instead they played follow the leader, all for optics. As often rhetorically posed to children [TRIGGER WARNING] “If Rutger’s told you to jump off of a bridge would you do it?”
Stockton has always been a follower. We wouldn’t want to disappoint anyone by not being 1000% politically correct and “take a stand”.  (Once we see the “correct” stand taken by all the prominent Universities is first. Take for example the removal of the bust of Richard Stockton. Shouldn’t the real embarrassment be that we had only a tiny bust of our namesake in our Library? I am curious to know how many students are aware that Richard Stockton was thrown in jail and starved in freezing winter weather because he signed that glorious document declaring our independence from tyranny. Whether to remove the bust or not is irrelevant to my argument. The point is that Stockton removed the bust of its namesake because statues of Christopher Columbus and Robert E. Lee were being toppled nationwide.  Stockton mandating vaccinations, masks, and fostering a one thought environment through propaganda is no different.  It is what everyone else was doing so we must as well. A University of followers, not leaders. None of which have an ounce of the courage Richard Stockton had.
Perhaps I am on the wrong side of history (or herstory, as I’m sure ARHU**** will re-name that department soon) but there could not be a more glaring juxtaposition between the indie-college that opened in a hotel on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, to this corporate juggernaut we know today. Richard Stockton stood up for what he knew was right even in the face of grave danger. How many of us are willing to do the same?
****ARHU is the acronym for Stockton University’s “School of Arts and Humanities”.

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