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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Letter to the editor: Foster unity through love

In a community generally so open and accepting of LGBTQ-identified individuals, an act of targeted hate rightfully shocks the queer community and our campus as a whole. As a fourth year student, I have seen my fair share of love, acceptance and community. I have also been profoundly affected by hate crimes. In the spring of 2008, an openly queer-identified student was targeted with homophobic vandalism on their door and bulletin board. As the community worked to heal fresh wounds, 34 students were targeted with homophobic mailings. I remember joining the rallies, reading the “love mail” and engaging in thoughtful dialogue with fellow community members as we all responded to this string of homophobic hate crimes. I learned that positive change could result from horrific events. Following the hate crimes, many students, staff and faculty collaborated to increase peer education regarding diversity and difference on campus and to create a hate crimes response protocol to guide campus responses in the aftermath of these incidents. While much progress was made, work remains to be done to reinforce community structures that minimize the number of hate crimes and effectively handle the aftermath when they do occur. Communication channels remain convoluted in campus-wide responses, despite a strong protocol, first responders are not specifically trained in dealing with hate crimes, and initiatives towards social justice and diversity must be further supported as preventative measures and as guiding principles of the College.

As people have begun to make these changes together and move forward, the campus community has been struck by repeated hate crimes and bias-motivated incidents targeted at the Latino/a population, women and the LGBTQ community. Last semester, a student’s poster was defaced with racist and xenophobic slurs, a sexist party was thrown, homophobic carvings were found on a bathroom door, queer safe space posters were vandalized with threats and a student’s car was targeted with homophobic slurs. In response, students from the class of 2010 organized as they were about to graduate and compiled over 300 letters to President Kington to stress the need for safety, support and action in the wake of this string of hate crimes and bias-motivated incidents. People were asked to contribute concrete suggestions to make this change happen, to highlight not only what people thought was lacking but also the necessary steps for change. These actions from the last year sparked dialogue about how to view these incidents as a trend with longer-term solutions rather than isolated incidents that can be dealt with and forgotten.

In light of what I see as a systemic problem during my four years here, I believe that first and foremost we must address the needs for safety, acceptance and belonging of those targeted by acts of hate. In the aftermath of a hate crime many students do not feel safe in their own home, in a community we all call our own, and that is something no student should have to go through. The very nature of a hate crime is that it affects not only individuals but also the entire group that is targeted for their identity. Moving forward, we must also address that there are people on campus who feel silenced in a different way. As a community that promotes love and acceptance for all, we must make sure that all voices are heard and that people are not pigeonholed for their beliefs. We must also stress that bias and intolerance, while present in all of us, are not tenets to uphold as a community but something that we must all actively work against. Biased beliefs, words, and actions carry with them the weight of history and conjure up the memory of everyday lived discrimination for those who are repeatedly told by society that they are inferior to the dominant group. Power relations in such an exchange are never equal and simply calling for tolerance on both sides ignores that fact. The tension between affirming a sense of safety, acceptance, and love for those who find few safe spaces in society such as the LGBTQ community and allowing other voices to be heard in order to productively deal with bias is one of the most important challenges facing our community.

In the wake of the most recent hate crime and student responses, some really great conversations and meetings have happened about exactly these topics. Student responses were guided by a sense of love, community and the need for change to end this vicious trend. People have discussed how to create tolerance on both sides, how to move forward, how we ourselves as individuals and a community can make changes, and how to institutionally support preventative measures and responses to hate crimes and bias-motivated incidents. An initial list of 18 proposals, many of which have been worked on for years and none of which have been addressed or fully implemented in a transparent or accountable way, was circulated as a starting point with blank lines for people to fill in their own solutions. From conversations about these proposals and additional ideas gained through dialogue, people are excited about creating more spaces and support for peer education, reforming the old student group Grinnell Talk to productively deal with homophobia and transphobia and other forms of oppression to unlearn them instead of just silencing those conversations, and forming a bias-response team trained to deal with the aftermath of hate crimes. So talk with people, keep asking for change, but whatever you do, don’t give into divisiveness. Neither we the LGBTQ community nor we the Grinnell community can afford it at a time where some people are systematically trying to tear our sense of community apart. These conversations don’t have to be divisive, and students showing that they are serious about their commitment to improving our campus climate in the wake of hate crimes doesn’t have to be a “radical” act in a pejorative sense but rather a space foroductive and loving dialogue. Calls for change are never smooth and unanimous, but they may nonetheless function as a breeding ground for a sense of community. Let’s keep that energy up by emphasizing the positive calls for change, the well-intentioned concerns and the need for community dialogue. Most importantly, it is our responsibility as a community to refuse to let this conversation about how to respond effectively to hate crimes die down like it has in the past. With students feeling increasingly unsafe on this campus, the stakes are too high for it to be ignored.
To Grinnell queers, allies and those striving to become allies,
Stay fierce, stay loving and stay proud

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