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Letter to the editor: A letter from recent alumni

This is a Letter to the Editor in a series of letters responding to last week’s Staff Editorial: From some other concerned Grinnell students. Find a list all the letters in this series below the article.

To the editors,

Grinnell is a community that stretches far beyond its campus. As alumni, we consider the S&B a valuable source of information for what is happening back in Iowa. In particular, the S&B’s opinion section has a long-established reputation among alumni, faculty, staff, and community members as a “pulse” for student opinion.

So it is hard to explain how deeply troubling we found last week’s staff editorial criticizing queer students and allies for “exploiting” recent hate crimes (“From some other concerned Grinnell students”). We are sensitive to your frustration with demands for policies that have already been enacted, and requests that have been made in the same way year after year with no result. However, by conflating these potentially valid discussion points with a powerful accusation against members of Grinnell’s queer and allied community, you perpetuated the marginalization of queer people by insinuating that demanding physical safety for every student—including queer students – is somehow a special rights or “activist” issue.

Though your intentions may have been pure, your oversight of the intensity and importance of the issues underlying these crimes furthered the feelings of desperation and fear we felt as survivors, and friends of survivors, of the Spring 2008 hate crimes—and which still impact us each time we hear about similar violence happening on campus.

We were especially troubled by the language and tone you employed to argue your position. Earlier this year, a gay Rutgers freshman killed himself. The Rutgers newspaper staff responded with an editorial that received press around the country for its barely veiled homophobia (“Media exploits University tragedy”). We were shocked when we saw the similarities between that editorial and yours – Grinnell students who we imagine would consider themselves allies.

The Rutgers newspaper staff wrote: “people’s relentless agendas took [Clementi’s] death and turned it into a cause based on false pretenses.” You wrote: “[students’ advocacy for institutional change is] a ploy for sympathy that falls flat considering the disconnect between the personal nature of the incident and the ‘Concerned Students of Grinnell’s’ political campaign waged in the aftermath.”
After Tyler Clementi killed himself, the Rutgers student newspaper staff wrote: “these groups want to be heard. They want the attention. They want their agendas to shine in the limelight.” After a Grinnell student was the target of homophobic violence, you wrote: “by conflating their political agenda with the recent hate crime on campus, [“Concerned Students of Grinnell”] are channeling the student body’s desire to support the targeted individual into supporting their cause.”

The message from the Rutgers newspaper staff was loud and clear, this is one person’s tragedy—stop making it about you. Queer people and their allies should stop insisting that this personal tragedy is part of a larger context. We’re familiar with the message—we hear it a lot. So when you used the same language, we heard the same message.

We do not understand how to separate the “personal nature of the incident” and the “political campaign waged in the aftermath.” How is it possible to divorce an individual incident of homophobic violence from advocacy for “institutional change” aimed at preventing such violence? Safety for everyone is not a “political agenda”—it’s a human right.

As editors of a longstanding Grinnell institution, your words are powerful – perhaps moreso than you know. We hope you will use the response to last week’s editorial as an opportunity to test your commitment as allies, particularly on those late Wednesday nights where a latent homophobic thought can profoundly impact Grinnellians not only on campus, but beyond.

More Letters to the Editor from this week’s series:

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  • R

    R WolfNov 16, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    As a recent alum, I personally find it borderline absurd to call Grinnell “a safe space,” or “mostly loving towards queer students,” etc.

    I feel the Student Affairs administration, and the student body itself, falls far short of some progressive ideal we espouse on a superficial level. In that sense, the recent events are not anomalous, but indicative of Grinnell’s real feelings.

    On a personal note, after I came out as gay, the only people in my life who said violent or hostile things were fellow Grinnell students (not my high school friends, or other communities).

    The campus needs strong and queer-lead education to get it to a place that actually resembles anything “queer-friendly.”