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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Bias-motivated incidents arouse activism

In chalk, in posters and in speech, Grinnell students came out in numbers this past week to make the statement that they will fight against prejudice, bias and intolerance. This wave of protest erupted in response to a public, homophobic comment that disturbed many members of the Grinnell community.

The day after 80s Harris, Sept. 20, Max Fulgoni ’12, Rathje 1st resident, found the statement “I h8 gay ppl” written on a whiteboard outside a student’s door on Rathje 1st, which was later reported by another student. This is the latest in a trend of similar acts of vandalism that demonstrate the need for an ongoing discussion about homophobia. Even though the incident falls under the “bias motivated incident” category, and does not warrant police involvement, it still impacted the campus.

In August, even before the school year officially began, Ragnar Thorisson ’10 observed a similar sentiment expressed on a whiteboard in Younker. Soon after, Elliot Karl ’12 noticed an offensive claim about a student’s sexuality, accompanied by a crude graphic, in Rathje 1st, targeting a different room than the one this past weekend. In fact, according to Nichole Baker ’10 of the student anti-discrimination group AJust, homophobia is so commonplace that “at every [AJust] meeting, at least one member comes forward and says something like, ‘In this class we had a really problematic discussion that deals with oppression,’ or, ‘The other day this happened.’”

This week, Grinnellians responded with a massive campaign promoting acceptance of diversity. Jon Richardson ’10 and fellow students from the Stonewall Resource Center decided to voice their opinions about the incident through the power of speech across campus. On Monday morning, posters and chalk-scribed expressions such as “Gay? Okay! Not gay? Okay!” were plastered all over campus, mostly outside the Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center and the East loggia, especially near the entrance to Rathje. “We want to reclaim Grinnell as a school that celebrates diversity of all kinds,” Richardson said.

The SRC has not acted alone. Student leaders from the LGBT community collaborated with the Student Government Association (SGA) in writing an SGA resolution that condemns any form of intolerance. “These are things that we should engage and discourage…It is our responsibility to confront these expressions of prejudice and say, ‘This is not acceptable,’” said SGA President Harry Krejsa ’10. The resolution was unanimously passed at the Joint Board meeting and was released in an all campus e-mail on Thursday morning that included a message from Krejsa.

In addition to these measures, AJust intends to soon establish a program called Grinnell Talk—a discussion-based group through which people can grapple with beliefs or opinions they feel are not accepted at Grinnell, such as homophobia. “This will be an outlet [for such people], so they won’t need to create an outlet in some other way,” said Baker, on behalf of AJust.

In contrast to last week’s disagreements about the release of the Hate Crime Response Policy, the student body and the administration are making a point of working together to oversee a productive response to the events that transpired.

Vice President of Diversity Elena Bernal, who has been in charge of enacting the Hate Crime Response Policy (HCRP), believes facilitating a productive student response is one of the administration’s primary goals. With the agreement of the SRC and SGA, Bernal is not treating the recent events as hate crimes, as no crime was committed, instead the events of this weekend constitute a “bias-motivated incident,” a subsection of the HCRP. Bernal sees this as one part of the needed reaction, saying, “Any response is much, much more than what’s in a delineated protocol.”

To this end, both Bernal and the staff of Student Affairs are excited by the commitment of student groups and individuals to promote tolerance. “I was really impressed by [students’] desire to educate the community,” said Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Residential Life Andrea Conner.

As part of the administration’s personalized approach, East Campus RLC Dan Hirsh, has been investigating the matter and talking to potentially involved students. “[Residential Life] can only react to what we know. I think we have a responsibility to do what is accurate,” Hirsh said. “I’m accountable for all the students, regardless of past actions or alleged poor decisions. I have a responsibility to those who may or may not have been involved.”

With so much attention concentrated on Rathje 1st, residents of the floor had been hesitant to voice their opinions. “The reason why we’ve been afraid to talk is because there’s so much controversy about what happened on our floor and because there are a few floor mates who have been involved with this,” Karl said, on behalf of his floor. “We don’t want to make a situation that’s difficult for them more difficult.”

After Karl found a door decoration defamed with homophobic slurs at the beginning of the year, he wrote in response, “Welcome to Grinnell. We don’t talk like that here.” Karl, believing the homophobic gesture was a one-time thing, said he decided not to file an official complaint because he did not want to get administration involved. After word of the second incident in Rathje reached Karl through Fulgoni, he felt compelled to share what he had observed. “I’m still getting used to the idea that these things are not okay,” Karl said. “[…] Just because I don’t feel attacked, I’m realizing that the community here is being attacked.”

“Even if people who live in those rooms were not offended by what was written… the presence of those words creates a hostile environment for people who identify in or with the LGBT community,” Conner said. “Even if this is intended as a joke, the impact is not a joke.”

There are several resources in place for students looking for guidance including an anonymous coming out group [cog], counselors, Student Affairs and the SRC. Richardson emphasized, “It’s really important for us to remember that, by and large, Grinnell students are fairly support of the queer people and really care about diversity and really want to combat all kinds of oppression on a daily basis.”

Coincidentally, these incidents were made public in the days preceding Coming Out Week. Hosted at Grinnell by the SRC, StoneCo and other LGBT activist groups, Coming Out Week consists of an array of activities including discussions, a flip cup tournament co-sponsored by the SRC and Basketball team and the “BBQueer” event, including a game of touch-football and a barbeque, leading up to National Coming Out Day on October 11.

“If there was ever a good time for coming out week to land, it’s right now,” Conner said.“They’ve already done the legwork earlier in the semester to prepare for these events.”

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