Reflecting on our biases

I have distinctive memories of reading three e-mails. After receiving the first in November of 2009, I sat in Tunnel City Coffee with several other members of the Queer Student Union. Together, we read about the homophobic graffiti scrawled across an entry in Mission, and my outrage was informed by the outrage of my upperclassmen friends. Two years later, I read an e-mail at 9 a.m. on Homecoming morning that briefly stated that “a racially hateful phrase” had been written on the wall of Prospect. While disturbed, I pushed the e-mail out of my mind until a meeting later that day. There, the anger of my peers as well as the full knowledge of what had been written clarified for me what I should be feeling: disgust at the act and the need for a strong, decisive response.

Most recently, Dean Bolton sent out an e-mail at 12:48 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012. She described an incident of the defacement of first a magnet and then a bumper sticker. In contrast to the past events I described, the defacement was an erasure rather than a hateful addition. Also in contrast, the targeted identity, Christian, is not often conceptualized as a minority. Unlike the Muslim Student Association and Williams College Jewish Association, neither Williams Christian Fellowship nor Williams Catholic is a member of the Minority Coalition.

As a leader of the Minority Coalition, I struggled with my own response to this event. I was unsure of how to act, but, most importantly, how to feel. Was it hypocritical that I was less outraged by this incident than by the others? Did this reveal my own creation of hierarchies of hate crimes? The answer to both of these questions is, undoubtedly, yes.

As a non-religious student, it is often difficult for me to engage in conversations about faith and religious practice. I have no base of understanding to speak from when it comes to devotion to God. I do, however, have some ability to comprehend the pain that accompanies the intentional erasure of one’s identity by the hateful acts of another. As a self-identified queer person, I occasionally come in contact with people who deny and attempt to erase my identity. Thankfully, I have always been able to find strength in my queer and allied friends. Thankfully, at the College I have always felt validated in my outrage and supported in my response.

I wonder if this is the case for Christian students at the College these past few days.  As of Sunday at 6 p.m., there was no WSO thread discussing the event. Unlike the past hate crimes I have witnessed at Williams, there has been no attempt at all-campus mobilization. I wonder if this is because affected students genuinely do not feel the need for outside support, or if it is because they sense the devaluation of this crime on the part of their peers. I wonder if students are unfairly devaluing the crime as less “worthy” of protest because of the targeted group, or because of the act itself.

The defaced bumper sticker read “Real Men Love Jesus.” The phrase immediately struck me as a problematic separation of so-called “real men” from another type of men based on a religious identity. The sticker implies that in order to be a “real man,” someone must follow certain codes of behavior beyond just being who they are. The sticker attempts to take away the male identity from readers who are not Christian, using religion as a way to create gendered boundaries and construct an artificial definition of masculinity. While the offensive content of the sticker allows me to empathize slightly with a desire to remove it (though I think it is rarely acceptable to deface personal property), the half of the sticker that was torn off read “Love Jesus.” This illustrates the motives of the crime. The act was not in response to a well-intentioned yet poorly executed desire to rectify misconceived notions of manhood, but rather an attempt to strip the car, and thus the car’s owner, of his or her religious identity.

I am not trying to argue that the torn sticker was as painful to those affected as the racial death threat was last November. To do so would forget the historic oppression of African Americans through violence and death that stretches throughout the history of our country. But I do believe my own initial dismissal of the event reflects an unconscious prioritization of responding to the pain of certain minority groups on campus over others.

However, in my involvement in hate crime response over the past three years, the conclusions at which I have arrived were formed after periods of reflection and conversation. These have been the times during which I have learned the most about the College community, my value system and my agency in determining my value system. While my discounting of the e-mail from last Saturday demonstrates an initial devaluation of an act against Christian students, it has also been an opportunity for me to reflect on my own biases and attempt to move past them.

Carrie Tribble ’13 is a biology major from Honolulu, Hawaii. She lives in Poker Flats.