Letter to the editor: Putting recent events in perspective

1974. Now that was a good year. It was the year 17 concerned black students physically took over Burling Library, barricaded themselves in, and refused to leave until they met with President Leggett to discuss their demands. I mean, you can even look further back and see evidence of students in the 19th century breaking rules and speaking out against authority to change precedent by traveling to play baseball against other schools—something that at the time you could have been kicked out for.

Why bring up these examples? While times, of course, have changed, getting people to listen and take you seriously and effect change really hasn’t.

As someone who has researched cultural disruptions in the past 20 years of Grinnell’s history for a MAP, and have been on campus with the class of 2011 for my fair share of hate crimes, I have heard alums talk about an out RLC having homophobic slurs written on his door in 1998, anti-Muslim graffiti on campus following September 11, 2001, swastikas painted in Lazier 1st bathrooms in 2004, plus I was here for the hate mail that went to 34 queer students in 2008 and Cunnilingus in 2009, among other incidents that provoked sentiments from students. These events, of course, are all horrible sad things, and of course, deserve a response and a resolution.

As much as I hate to say it, responses to those events discussed above are almost cookie cutter. There never really is a resolution. Rallies or candlelight vigils, discussions, Joint Board resolutions, trainings and student group formation/re-formation happen most, if not every time. All responses have passionate starts, but nothing really ever sticks. The campus is left with feelings of outrage and division, and then eventually, most people leave, or worse, forget.

Please don’t interpret this as good things don’t come from these types of responses, or that the work of students to foster these events were negative or useless. Some great things did happen—the creation of the Multicultural Leadership Council, establishing a VP for diversity, the creation of AJust Grinnell—but then again, who really even knows what that stuff is or what it really has even accomplished?

Anyways, at the end of the day, what we see is that responses don’t do a whole lot if you’re preaching to the choir or don’t have a set of demands that are well thought out, which also are trends in the past 20 years.

With this most recent hate crime, I see the same things in the works—rallies, discussions, trainings, etc., and I think we need to stop in our tracks right now. We have been presented with the opportunity to change the cyclical framework we’ve been operating in. While we should, of course, continue to support the victim(s) with all of our love and that should never change, it’s time to try a new (and kind of old) way to make everyone in our community listen. That goes for our fellow students, faculty, staff and administration. If we want people to listen, we have to start from the beginning and ASK them to listen.

If that doesn’t work, then we have to prove that we deserve to have our voices heard through having a well-thought out and widely agreed upon set of talking points—not demands, not anything with a negative connotation, just clear, well thought out statements.

We have to stop trying to push a set of demands that, sorry to say, as of now, people don’t agree with, or worse, don’t understand.

We have to prove we want change so badly we will do everything in our power to educate our peers and prove to them why things must change. The “we” must be more than 15, 30 or even 100 people. We can’t move forward to even begin to align ourselves or dream of the change of 1974 or earlier unless we have at least a significant part of the community on the same page.

I’m a concerned student of Grinnell, too.

I’m concerned we do the same thing every time and nothing works.