Framing community discussion: An examination of campus reactions to the recent hate crime

On Saturday, Dean Bolton reported in an all-campus e-mail that a hate crime had occurred at the College. According to Bolton’s e-mail, a student reported that a magnet reading “Real Men Love Jesus” had been stolen from his car. The student later replaced the magnet with a sticker bearing the same message, and the “Love Jesus” wording of the sticker subsequently was torn from the car. While it is clear that this hateful behavior – and, generally, vandalism of personal property – are inexcusable, these acts unfortunately continue to occur on campus, marking a trend that we must work as a community to end.

We at the Record would first like to thank the administration for responding quickly to this hate crime and for releasing informative details to the student body. In situations like these, it is important to diffuse speculation with truth. The incident reported last weekend is dissimilar in scope and intensity from the racial hate crime that occurred last November, and as a result, some members of our community may think that informing the entire campus of its occurrence is too aggressive a response. While the magnitude of response that proved necessary and cathartic in the wake of November’s incident may not be necessary now, the value of an all-campus e-mail lies in the fact that we collectively recognize each instance for what it is: a hate crime.

Regardless of the impetus behind last weekend’s vandalism, we cannot ignore that this is the third bias-based incident that has occurred at the College in the past year. Whether this is a trend or a coincidence, this problem needs to be addressed. After November’s hate crime, Students Against Silence (SAS) took up the battle against hate speech on campus, encouraging more transparent incident reporting on the part of both students and the administration. The College does not yet have an institutionalized system for notifying the campus of hate crimes, but the Bias Incident Reporting Task Force is currently working on such a system. It seems that the de facto starting point in response to recent hate crimes has been an administrative all-campus e-mail, and it is worth considering implementing this initial method of informing students as an institutionalized practice.

While an administrative response is useful in informing the campus in an efficient and truthful manner, we believe that any call to response on the part of the community must also be student-generated in order to genuinely affect campus culture. As a group composed entirely of students, SAS has the potential to serve a pivotal role in shaping how we as a community deal with hateful incidents. If we deem it productive to start a conversation – in this case about religion and religious acceptance – it is important that we do so through grassroots conversations and organic student initiatives. While racism, homophobia, mental health and alcohol use have been brought to our attention in all-campus forums and discussions, an open dialogue on religion is one that we rarely have as a collective. It is worth considering the value of such a conversation, especially on a campus comprised of diverse religious and spiritual identities.

The immediate responses of Williams Christian Fellowship and Williams Catholic appropriately focused on serving the needs of their respective communities. However, though it is in no way appropriate to vandalize another’s personal property or disparage their religious beliefs, we at the Record feel the need to recognize that the message espoused on the defaced sticker may be offensive to others, and is not necessarily the belief or message espoused by the majority of Christians on campus. Despite this complication, we encourage SAS, Christian organizations and other students interested in questions of religious and spiritual life on campus to consider wider discussions of religion’s role on campus, albeit without framing future discussion as contingent on this incident.

It is also important to keep in mind that this most recent incident differs from the racist and homophobic instances of vandalism that occurred last November and February, respectively, in that the apparent target of this hate crime was ostensibly a member of a majority group. As we move forward in discussion, it is important that we not cloud our judgement with this fact. The definition of a hate crime does not change if the target is not a minority, and vandalism is still wrong even if the content of one’s property is inflammatory or offensive. Regardless of the message projected by this student’s property, we should all agree that it is wrong to deface it. Such acts of vandalism are both disrespectful and illegal. As a community, we should not seek to silence one another, but instead to begin a dialogue around opposing views with the goal of making our community safer, more inclusive and more understanding.

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