Standing up to hate

April 25, 2012 by Samuel Flinn

When I first discovered the word “fag” inscribed in large letters into the door of my room, I felt not afraid but annoyed. I do not know the intent of the person who performed what I consider to be a hate crime, and I hope whoever did it finds the strength to seek help. 

I moved into Brooks this past February. Two weeks later, someone stabbed my door 17 times. At the time, I was unsettled and inspected the door for further damage but only saw a cluster of puncture marks to the right of the dry erase board. It happened during midterms, so I concerned myself with the million other things I had to do and tried to ignore it. Then, this past Sunday, I saw the unmistakable word “fag” carved on the left side of the whiteboard. It was definitely not done with a fingernail, as President Falk’s all-campus e-mail stated.

This attack, along with countless others in Williams’ history, has sparked a familiar set of discussions and an endless pattern of reactions. But we almost instantly forget about them because we often pay more attention to our academic well-beings than each others’. We – students, faculty and staff – are overworked. There is not enough time to have conversations about the numerous ways discrimination has been systematically interwoven into this institution’s history. No one makes time to discuss transphobia in the classroom, the heteronormativity of the Junior Advisor (JA) co-pairs or the generally puritanical views of sex, sexuality and gender that fester in our campus. We (and I include myself here) eschew interrogation of the system in favor of maintaining the status quo. But it is clear that the status quo is not working.

My reaction to the epithet “fag” reflects this sentiment. We have let ourselves become resigned to discrimination. My first thought upon discovering the word was not, “Oh no, there are homophobes at Williams.” I know that there are homophobes at the College, and I have been forced to accept that. We cannot tolerate this kind of thought. It is not the words themselves that make hate speech so dangerous but the indifference to their effects. There are dangers in staying silent. Nor can we trivialize hate speech, flaunting the First Amendment as an excuse for the deployment of violent words. We need a more rational discourse about issues that affect LGBTQIAA students, faculty and staff on campus. We need to remember how imperative it is to confront discrimination wherever it rears its ugly head – in an entry, classroom, Paresky or Hopkins Hall. I often try to forget that Williams is not a safe space for everyone.

The heteronormative structures of our institution need to be repaired before they exclude, not after. We cannot automatically accept every aspect of the way this school works for the sake of tradition – or convenience. Discrimination at this school is a problem at many levels but particularly the institutional one, and the administration needs to reexamine the structures that are biased against any part of the Williams community. I refer to issues that affect queer people, but all kinds of prejudices exist, as many members of our community are reminded on a daily basis. I know many students who would love to try to fix Williams’ biased clauses and policies but simply do not have the time. We have two papers, a problem set and an a cappella concert this week. What can we really do?

Our campus has a problem paying attention to what really matters. We hear wonderful messages of tolerance and acceptance in the wake of every harmful scrawling but forget about them after about a week or so. We need to be in constant discussion about all hate crimes. This endemic discrimination will not stop unless we confront why it is happening. I have been advised not to be militant. Not to be angry, even though I am.

Subjugating emotions and feelings of oppression to GPAs and Forbes rankings detracts from our sanity and academic vitality. During those few free times between classes, practices, rehearsals or meetings when we can have a genuine interaction with another human being, thousands of thoughts inundate our minds. Our brains are full. We need to reprioritize. To take a breath and take a break. Listen, reexamine and begin to fix what needs to be fixed. Reactionary meetings about crimes like these can be eye-opening, but we need to do more. There is not an itemized list of things that need to happen in order to create a safe and inclusive campus for LGBTQIAA individuals. A problem like institutionalized heteronormativity cannot be solved overnight. But I am certain that homophobes are not the majority. Anyone can claim to be an ally, but saying you are an ally does not make you one. Object when your JA makes an assumption about who hooked up with whom last night. Write a comment on the form with two gender checkboxes, explaining that a decision between “male” and “female” is not so simple for everyone. Speak out when your professor makes a joke about bisexuality.

On Sunday night, Post-its with messages of love and support covered my door. It was a heartening end to an emotionally draining day that shows we can all make more time to actually care about each other in big ways and small.

 

Samuel Flinn ’14 is from Weehawken, N.J. He lives in Brooks.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Robert Kent April 26, 2012 at 11:22 pm

Among the more challenging tasks before the Williams community is to maintain an inclusiveness so radically welcoming that the perpetrator, whomever he or she might be, might be able to admit and embrace their own very-closeted inclinations, the internal rejection of which probably drove them to manifest and externalize their intolerance onto the author’s door in the first place.

While some individual and institutional discrimination certainly exists – such that progressively challenging and eliminating it is an important exercise, many of the least-tolerant individuals are first and foremost intolerant of themselves, and the only real cure will be an internal self-acceptance most likely catalyzed by someone else’s compassion, understanding, and acceptance. As such, at least on issues of gender and orientation (this model does not translate simply to issues of race), it is important to offer a level of compassion the perpetrator of intolerance does not seem to have earned yet, which can be very difficult.

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Alison October 18, 2012 at 1:08 pm

Robert Kent, you put it so elegantly!

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