Almost the entire campus disapproves of the vandalism and graffiti perpetrated in Dennett nearly two weeks ago, even if only at the level that writing on a wall with sharpies is just destructive behavior. Some, more than others, are upset at the homophobic slur written on the entry’s wall.
Although the hurt is very understandable, a response that adds to the factionalization of our already fractious Williams community is counterproductive. The impulsive reaction would be to immediately try to blame a perceived “other” â€“ members of the majority â€“ and assume antagonism on behalf of this large portion of the student body. If this is done, then there arises a false aggressor-victim paradigm that leaves allies in the woodwork uncomfortable with speaking out.
All parties must remember not to demonize others whom they don’t know and resist the urge to break into camps based on identity groups alone. Many otherwise allies, especially WSMAD (Whites, Straights, Males, Athletes or Drinkers) identified students, are discouraged by sheer exclusionary nomenclature, such as the “Women’s Center” and the various subgroups of Minority Coalition, as well as any rhetoric that makes them feel alienated or guilty about their own identities. Instead, we should look towards true coalition building, not of ethnic minorities but of ideas, not of exclusion but inclusion: a Coalition of the Majority who feel that infringement of the rights of any member of our community is wrong.
It is a widely accepted stereotype that the individuals who are responsible for incidents like the one that occurred in Mills-Dennett 1 are members of the WSMAD community. If that is the case, then these behaviors probably point to some larger social or cultural frustrations that they themselves face. The current identity groups have done an excellent job of addressing the needs of their respective constituencies, but it seems like the group that requires counseling the most is left out of the picture. If we wish to tackle the endemic issues we face as a campus, then addressing and understanding the needs, feelings, motivations, misconceptions and issues of these recently underrepresented students is a top priority.
Thankfully, this is not a far-fetched idea. A meeting at the new Gender and Sexuality Resource Center last Thursday bridged new ground for cooperation and positive dialogue by having a diverse discussion. (Funny how now having WSMAD students attend counts as diversity, right?) The name of the center is itself a remarkable step towards creating a place that includes the entire Williams community instead of just one specific group. It would have been very easy and understandable, but necessarily reactionary, to name it the “Women’s and Queer Support Center.” Instead, the leadership of the Women’s Center and the Queer Student Union had the courage to give it an all-inclusive name despite temptations to the contrary. As a result of their wisdom, a fantastic new sense of shared purpose is now evident.
Organizations like the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center are not novel in the history of the College, and need not be in its future either. In the past, students who felt their needs weren’t being met by the fraternities, the status quo, formed a Commons Club, which provided similar support and recreational services without the exclusive history of its peer groups. We again face a moment where a slice of the student population is left with a clear support disparity. Let’s create a new organization that provides a dedicated, supportive social space to all students, but especially those whose identities are not currently given representation under the status quo; some examples of this may include the W/S/M/A/D categories, as well as those who might fit a certain institutionalized racial, sexual, or ethnic identity, and yet not wish to be simply classified as such in a group.
People cannot be indefinitely protected from senseless, offensive speech; in reality, there is no Thought Police. And these attacks will not always be based on certain identities. That’s why an organization for the empowerment of all students will be particularly useful. Williams students must be equipped not only with the personal and social skills to handle taunts or insults with poise, character and reasonable restraint, but also the maturity and respect not to commit those acts themselves. A new Commons Club would help create an orchestration of unique personalities into an intellectual, social and ideological fervor, one that cares about who you are and whatÂ specialtyÂ you bring to the table â€“ one that allows for discourse free from a culture of fear, and one where diversity means what you think and speak supersedes how you were born. Our campus is one step closer to reaching a goal that I think we all can share: coming together as a community where no person or group is any less a part of that community than any other. In the words of President Obama, this moment is “about rejecting panicked division for purposeful unity.”
Please, let’s make it happen together.
David Michael ’13 is from La Canada, Calif. He lives in Williams Hall.