Promoting respect respectfully

A sleepy New England town was not so sleepy late last Wednesday night, as hundreds of students, faculty and staff poured from a packed Baxter Hall into the Williamstown streets, loudly promoting Stand With Us’ message of respect. That the movement – and this rally in particular – has galvanized much of the campus is undeniable. Yet for all the good energy that poured forth on Wednesday, a little bad energy seeped through as well, and threatened to add a tinge of dissatisfaction to an otherwise successful evening.

This dissatisfaction is due in large part to how a few members of the march handled students studying in Schow that night. In several instances those in the library that didn’t join in were yelled at and made to feel uncomfortable. Some who did not immediately stand with the rest of the group were intimidated into doing so.

The irony is overwhelming – not to mention disconcerting. Promoting the message of respect with methods that are quite frankly disrespectful undermines the positive work done by Stand With Us. Members need to channel energies more effectively in a way that won’t polarize or threaten students that choose not to participate actively.

Now, we understand that the movement aims to shake the campus from indifference, and that this requires an active approach. Indeed, the spirited demonstrations give the movement its character. But in several instances, such as some of Wednesday’s Schow confrontations, this spirit bordered on hostility. It’s one thing to march and cheer; quite another to single out those who are studying instead.

Such methods assume that those who don’t actively participate are necessarily opposed to the movement’s message. In some cases, quite the opposite is true. Not all chose to address issues of intolerance, racism and disrespect in a similarly vociferous manner, but rather prefer to speak out in smaller groups, where individual voices have more resonance. We must be mindful that there are many ways to “stand with us,” some of which don’t involve literally standing at all.

At a point when the movement seemed poised to overwhelm – in the very best sense of the word – the collective Williams social consciousness, such incidents represent a backward step. We still enthusiastically endorse the movement, but we hope to see changes in how a few members promote their message. After all, fighting disrespect with disrespect seems like a troublesome solution to the campus’ social problems.

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