COLUMN: Politeness pays

by Angelique Siy

I'VE NOTICED that it helps to be polite.

For example, I was in the Thresher office while politicos turned in their blurbs. Many people appealed to me to accept late submissions. I was likely to help those who were nice, but reluctant to assist those who were rude.

There are exceptions to the politeness rule: It doesn't help to be polite when you're a student dealing with politicians, Secret Service or the Houston Police Department.

When Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was in the Student Center for her foreign policy speech, the Secret Service and HPD secured the area across the hall from Farnsworth Pavilion. Before Albright arrived, and during her speech and the following reception, students were not allowed between the area near the information desk and the side door that faces the Inner Loop. I asked one officer why the area was restricted, and his initial response was unhelpful: I would have to go through the back door with the card reader.

So I walked around to the side door and was met at the steps by a Secret Service agent who said that no entry was permitted into the "restricted area." I told him I was part of the Thresher and asked why the area was restricted. According to this particular agent, the side hallway was a holding area for Secretary Albright if anything went wrong.

I didn't push my luck with the agent and went to the back door. A few minutes later, I left the Thresher office and walked down to the stairwell near Academic Advising. Under the stairwell, I saw some HPD officers talking to each other and asked them why the area was restricted.

"Restricted?" one asked. He looked at his companions. "This area's not restricted."

So I asked, "This isn't the holding area for Secretary Albright in case of an emergency?"

"Uh -- no," one said. "We're just hanging out." I felt better.

I walked into the hallway on my way to the CoffeeHouse. I stopped to talk, and the next thing I knew, the first HPD officer I had met firmly requested that I leave the restricted area. I explained that the other officers had said there was no restricted area, and in a few seconds, the Secret Service agent who had stopped me at the side door appeared. He asked the officer what the problem was and placed a hand midway down my back, pushing gently. The HPD officer said that I refused to leave.

The agent told me then that I would have to leave. I explained my situation; he asked if I enjoyed making a scene; I said that I was not making a scene and simply wanted to return to my office. He said that if I did not comply, he would take me into custody: Now, I didn't want to be taken into custody, did I?

Furthermore, he didn't know who I was or what that was (I was holding a digital camera), and if I didn't leave, he would arrest me. He was persuasive, so I obeyed: one more threat to national security neutralized.

I am indignant about my treatment because as a Rice student, I help pay for the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, and the HPD and Secret Service are guests of the campus.

The Baker Institute has also managed to lose some of my respect with its handling of the event. Not only were students not given absolute priority over the general public, but some of Rice's faculty were turned away.

Even Madeleine Albright helped create an unwelcoming atmosphere. Albright brushed off a Thresher editor in chief with something like, "I'm busy. Can it wait? Talk to me later."

She was also overheard as wondering, regarding the admittance of Rice students to the Grand Hall, "How much can they care anyway? They're only college students."

Secretary Albright, if you ever happen to read this, please ask yourself how you -- as a former professor -- could have been so inconsiderate to students.

Many students were slighted as a result of Albright's brief stay on campus. Preventing this from happening again is simple: recognize that students and their education are the primary reason universities exist.

Angelique Siy is the news editor and a Sid Richardson College sophomore.

This item appeared in the Opinion section of the February 14, 1997 issue.

Copyright © 1996 The Rice Thresher. All Rights Reserved.
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