Taking campus culture into our own hands: The importance of remembering, educating and moving forward together

Last weekend, the campus responded to a confusing and emotionally charged incident. While the motivation of the event, originally classified as a hate crime, has since been clarified, the campus is still generating its response to the incident and broader issues of silence, discrimination and intolerance on campus. These reactions are particularly complicated as the timing of the incident and the diction employed evoked another emotional event in the College’s history: the hate crime committed in Prospect on Nov. 12, 2011.

Last November, the collective pain of the campus was perpetuated by an administrative response that students deemed inadequate. Last weekend, the administration made effective use of the recently created bias incident reporting protocol. The administration’s communication was clear and informative, and Campus Safety and Security ensured that the victim was secure and initiated an investigation of the incident – both actions that underscore the importance the College has placed on taking the crucial first steps in addressing bias incidents.

Though the words inscribed on a student’s whiteboard last weekend were not written with malicious intent, the incident nevertheless highlighted campus-wide issues that we as a community still must address. Foremost, we as students must accept that this incident, and the similar incidents that we have seen in the last few years, reflect an ailing campus culture. The first step in improving the campus culture – and thus diminishing discrimination on campus – is to accept that despite the many steps made in the right direction over the past year, our community is an imperfect one.

In particular, we must admit that we have not done an adequate job of informing first-years – who constitute a quarter of our student population – of the nature and weight of last November’s events. First-years were primarily informed of last November’s hate crime via two YouTube videos that the Minority Coalition (MinCo) and Students Against Silence (SAS) compiled. These videos offered a single, charged perspective on last November’s events and as such inadequately informed first-years of the myriad of reactions to last November’s hate crime. Further, Junior Advisors (JAs) not only did not receive support, training or information regarding the discussion to be held, but also received the videos only hours before entry snacks began. Going forward, it is crucial that such educational initiatives are critically examined and improved.

We at the Record believe that the most natural way to address the flaws in our campus culture is to extend conversations about discrimination beyond formal settings. This extension should not be top-down, as the administration inherently has a limited ability to change campus culture. We must encourage the entire College community to engage in conversations with others, whether that be in order to learn more about each other’s diverse backgrounds, to reflect on microaggressions and past discrimination or to discuss concrete change. While events like Claiming Williams and Looking Back, Moving Forward are effective in stimulating conversation on the days that they occur, we need to focus on moving conversation beyond these days and outside of meetings with administrators and faculty, and instead into our daily lives. What reaches the majority of students are not all-campus discussions, but their friends, their teammates or their classmates bringing these issues up in casual conversation, thereby incorporating thoughtfulness surrounding sensitive issues of campus culture into our daily lives.

The need for more informal, everyday campus discussion has significant implications for organizations like SAS. Since last November, SAS has played a more limited role on campus than the original energy behind the movement suggested it would. Going forward, SAS must think critically about its mission and return to its roots. Part of what made the movement so exciting last November was that it formed as an organic response to students’ desire for campus change after the hate crime. While it is certainly not a simple charge, what SAS and other organizations focused on breaking silence around these issues must do is find a way to encourage organic discussions all over campus and help individual students engage with these issues on a personal level to incrementally and permanently reform the campus culture.

SAS and other student organizations must capitalize on person-to-person interactions. JAs, Baxter Fellows and team captains play a significant role in setting the campus culture as leaders, but what is more important is the number of people that these leaders reach. Cultural change spreads through a ripple effect: A core of dedicated students can reach out to their friends and neighbors who may then reach out to their friends and neighbors until we have a campus culture of which we can truly be proud. Going forward, SAS, as the epicenter for this campus change, and each and every individual at the College must utilize publicity campaigns, a reinvigorated base and individual passions and experiences to encourage students to discuss discrimination with one another organically. Though affecting cultural change is a demanding and sluggish process, it is one that we, as the iteration of the College community that has been racked by bias incidents, discriminatory acts and hate crimes, must take the responsibility to advance.