Guiding our response to discrimination: An opportunity to unite and build our community

On Sunday, President Falk sent an e-mail notifying the College community that a homophobic slur had been found inscribed in a student’s door. We at the Record appreciate the thought behind the administration’s e-mail and commend the Bias Incident Reporting Task Force for its careful revision of the College’s response policy following the November hate crime. Despite these improvements in response policy, the occurrence of this incident indicates that the underlying issues of hate and discrimination at the College remain ongoing social problems that our community must continue to address.

We appreciate the administration’s transparency and its efforts to inform students of the details of the incident and the measures being taken to address it. At the same time, however, we feel that the Sunday’s e-mail focused too much on the illegality of the incident at the expense of more important social repercussions. While we appreciate that vandalism is illegal and that the intimidating nature of the incident merited police attention, we hope that the community response will focus its efforts on effecting social change rather than on exacting punishment.

The focus of our campus’ response to this attack on members of our community should be one of healing. We know that it is unlikely that the perpetrator will be caught, and that even if he were, that act would not solve our community’s problems. Discrimination through derogatory speech and action cannot be eradicated from our community by apprehending one individual. Discriminatory acts like this occur regularly, no matter how many task forces we form. Issues of discrimination will not be solved by holding a rally each time a slur is written on a door; the situation will only change if we make it clear that such incidents are unacceptable in our community any day of the year. For every time this word is written on a door or desk, it is spoken many more times, and it is in those moments that members of our community need to speak up and confront each other to facilitate genuine, meaningful social change. We, as community members, are responsible for holding our peers accountable for their words and for upholding a culture of respect and toleration through our use of language.

By focusing on healing, our community can move forward. We commend the Queer Student Union and the organizers of Queer Pride Days for proceeding with their celebrations as planned. Events such as those taking place this week educate our community in all kinds of diversity and foster an environment where every individual is encouraged to be an ally. Being an ally might mean sticking up for a friend when a hurtful slur is said, attending educational programming or reporting offensive graffiti, among many other potential manifestations. It is this emphasis on education that will allow community members of all backgrounds to become better allies.

Our culture can only get stronger if the entire community comes together to improve our ability to relate to one another. We recognize that too often, forums promote a self-censoring environment where only students who respond in a particular and politically correct way feel welcome. Accordingly, the community response to this incident should not stem only from the emotional reaction of those who felt attacked by the graffiti. Our goal is the creation of an inclusive, supportive community, and that goal can only be reached if the voices of all community members can be heard, particularly when issues affecting our entire community are under discussion.

While the creation of this type of supportive, safe community may seem like a lofty goal, we at the College hold ourselves to a higher standard than other communities. What happened this weekend might have been ignored in other communities, but we have chosen to recognize and confront it over the past few days. This reaction is a testament to how far Williams as an institution and we as a community have come, but it does not mean that our journey stops here. Problems of discrimination cannot be addressed in one day or in one e-mail. This is a community problem – a universal problem, in fact – and it requires careful reflection from every member of our community. Homophobic, racist, sexist and other discriminatory remarks have no place on this campus, and ultimately it is our responsibility as individuals to uphold the highest moral standards.