Faults in the system

Last week, I contacted the Record staff to describe my idea for an opinion piece to be published after the event series “Looking Back, Moving Forward.” It was going to go something like this:

A couple of days ago I was sitting in my carrel in Schow when a group of students walked in, talking together and laughing. While I tried to tune out the noise, I heard one of the students say, “That’s gay.” I turned toward him, and as he walked passed the side of my carrel, our eyes met. I channeled into my eyes all of the anger I felt, the frustration with being disturbed while studying by a stupid, homophobic comment, and I know he saw it. I wanted him to see it. A minute later, the student approached me. He apologized for having said what he did and for offending me. He said that not using homophobic phrases was something that he is working on and something that he will continue to work on. We introduced ourselves, and I thanked him for approaching me.

Never before have I had such a positive interaction come out of overhearing a homophobic phrase. I give all of the credit for this interaction to the student. Despite being presented with my hostility, he stepped out of a comfort zone and broke down the barrier between offended and offender.

In the initial version of this op-ed, I was going to comment on progress. I do not think that this type of interaction would have happened during my first year at the College. It made me think, several days before the anniversary of the hate crime on Nov. 12, 2011, that positive change can and has happened.

Saturday afternoon, I saw the e-mail from President Falk informing the College that another hate crime was committed in a Mission entry, mimicking the wording of last November with its inscription, “All beaners must die.” The thought that someone had attempted to make a mockery of all of the efforts put in by student, faculty and staff leaders to make this campus a safer place since last year was devastating to me. As I gathered with other leaders of campus representative bodies, I noticed a shared numbness, a collective disbelief. As I once again found myself in Hardy House, preparing for a conversation with the same administrators, seeing my friends and peers angry and scared about a very similar phrase, I felt thrown back, against all of my will, to where we were a year ago.

Learning from Falk in an e-mail on Sunday about the circumstances under which the incident occurred changed this. Instead of imagining someone intentionally threatening a group of members of the College community or mocking the efforts of creating change, I understood the incident as the result of an ill-fated but probably well-intentioned attempt to engage fellow students in a conversation about the hate crime last fall.

The way we talk about diversity at Williams clearly isn’t working to its fullest capacity. We need to keep in mind that we all – students, administrators, faculty and staff of all races and ethnicities – have the same goal in mind: to create a better, more inclusive and welcoming College community for those who call the purple bubble home.

While last weekend proved to me that many changes, especially regarding administrative response to hate crimes, have successfully been implemented since last year, it also showed that on a deeper level, we are still failing to engage each other in productive dialogue about diversity and this community. We can and must do more.

In the formal conversations last weekend and informal conversations since, I have heard a number of suggestions from fellow students about policy changes moving forward and I believe that through the following ways, we can create a campus that welcomes more inclusive conversations about diversity.

First, the bias incident response protocol should be updated to include a suggestion that all Junior Advisors be contacted following a bias incident with resources to allow them to facilitate conversations within the entry.

Second, we should incorporate greater discussions about discrimination into First Days. The way we talk about sexual assault can be used as a model to create dialogue and present the legal definition of a hate crime and the College’s policy’s regarding bias incidents.

Third, we should try to remember that the vast majority of students on this campus agree on a common goal: that the College should be a place where all students feel welcome and safe. While we may differ in the methods to achieve that goal, keeping that commonality in mind will allow us to work toward conversations that value and respect difference of many varieties.

These three suggestions are by no means a stand-alone prescription for fixing issues of diversity on campus. But through these suggestions and others, I believe that experiences like the one I had in Schow will become more and more common. As for more personal reflections, I hope that when confronted with discriminatory remarks in the future, I can find the courage and strength to respond with a conversation starter rather than an angry glare.

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