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Letter to the editor: Staff editorial critique

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.

Dear S&B staff,

I’m going to go out on a limb here and proclaim myself as an authority on staff editorials in the S&B in the last four years. I didn’t write a MAP on them, but I did write one or two of them. As I proceed to disagree and critique your editorial and your front-page article last week, I look online to the examples of the staff editorials and front-page stories of May 7, 2010, of April 23, 2010, of March 5, 2010, of April 16, 2009, of October 9, 2009, of September 25, 2009, of March 7, 2008, and of February 29, 2008. I’m only going to focus on a couple of these issues, but I encourage you and any other interested readers to check out those dates.

I began with the front page article “Coming Together Against Hate” on February 29, 2008. This story brings me right back to the way I felt that week— this is terrible, and this will change, and the S&B will be there to document it. The pictures were beautiful, the quotes were unique and obviously required hours of interviews, and the stories were structured and executed with precision. I read “Anti- Queer Hate Mail…” the story that ran on March 7, 2008: again, the S&B showed that it was willing to work hard to frame the debate in what felt at the time to be an honest and complete manner. Here I saw constructively critical quotes from students, positive quotes from administrators, in-depth research done on an extremely tight schedule. The stories on all of the other dates I mention above, even the one from just last spring (March 5’s “Bias-Motivated Incidents Reoccur”), all show the same kind of devotion to the (because I’m a sucker for this kind of stuff) inspiring struggle to check the facts, ask the right people, frame the debate, show support for students, and recognize the work of professors and administrators.

Last week’s cover story, “College Enacts Hate Crime Response Protocol”, exhibited exactly zero of the traits I mention above. In all of the conversations that I have had since reading that story, conversations that I admit were with people who are sympathetic to my position, I have found nothing but frustration and sometimes anger with the framing or the execution of that story. I’ve learned that the story also likely violated significant parts of the college’s confidentiality policy, which only adds to my initial feeling that the way you treated the victim in it was horrendous; in fact, to use the language that you applied to the rally, it was “largely exploitative.” The victim became a cheap tool to justify the split of your article into administrative and student voices, where the two sides played a tug-of-war over policies and procedures. As a whole, the story is biased in favor of the most severe quotes from the administrators, dismissive or simply non-interested in both the voices of students who are not “queer leaders”, and violently forces the students quoted into speaking for every queer student and ally. It is also draconian in its interpretations, especially the assertion that the students “violated” the HCRP. It neglects quotations when they would be relevant (especially a response to Greene’s assertion that “targeted individuals were re-traumatized” by the forwarding of the email outside of Grinnell last semester) and forces the student quotes to stand next to sentences that demean these quotes. This is not journalism.

Onto the staff editorial from “other concerned Grinnell students”. I want to voice my frustration with this editorial pithily, in a single question, but I’m not sure this one doesn’t simply parody or oversimplify my complaint: Why attack the friends, allies, and queer students who rallied last week when it was a homophobic and violent individual, a person who in many ways simply stands in for, is a pawn for, and metonomizes a violent and homophobic culture at large, who perpetrated these acts?

I am wondering what kind of actions would be acceptable, since dancing, laughing and loving as students did on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and beyond in front of both the JRC and Nollen House shows this individual (if they are listening) that the queer community is not just for queers. It is for everyone, including people with many different opinions on sexuality, race, culture, society, religion, etc., etc. Many in “the movement” realize that issues of class and privilege have allowed them to spend as much time as they have on the rallies and the responses to the hate crime. This realization only means that they must and have continued to be reflective in their actions; it isn’t a good reason why they shouldn’t keep working on these responses.

The violent racism and sexism of last spring affected people of every identity category. The violence that one person does to another based on the victim’s sexuality is not simply a disagreement between individuals. It is a terrifying representation not of the natural state of human difference but of one person’s urge that everyone be exactly like them.

I say this as somewhat who didn’t dance a step on Thursday, when I first found myself struck with the realization that the dancing and rallying outside the JRC was exactly what I needed to see at that moment, when the despair that always accompanies these attacks was hurting me most. I was rushing from a computer lab to a quick lunch to class and didn’t even join in, but I had a huge smile on my face for most of the rest of that day. On Friday, I saw and heard the mass in front of Nollen House on my way to work in town and thought only that it was high time that someone disturbed that patch of grass. What’s so sacred about spaces like that on campus? To hear that the administration was cordial to the students is a great sign and not unexpected. To hear that the administration was cordial to the students does not mean that either the staff editorial or the front-page article have a shred more of truth to them.

Those who profess to be allies with the queer community but ask for some instrumental action from them, ask that they do something that “works” in a way that can only be administrative, seem to me to simply be privileged and guilty, a label that can apply to a caricatured but I think fairly accurate description of the “ivory tower academy” as a whole. I am not asking you to get off your asses and do something, but simply to quit condemning actions that are not easily framed as juridical, administrative, or “workable”. I am only asking that you respect the work of the people who try to reconstruct a community out of violence.

So, where do I think we go from here? We keep talking. We keeping dancing away, cookie-cutter people we are, women, men, womyn, myn, zes and hes and hissies and cissies. We are not called to make our private loves public, but personally, I think this is a great time to do so. Now, more than ever, concerned Grinnell students need to start talking to their families and friends about sexuality, and about how they should be able to express their own sexuality at their own school without fear of violence. The staff of the S&B, as they have done in last week, can continue to talk to members of the community, and make themselves available more publically, outside the space of the Publications Office. They will continue to be loved like the students and friends and allies that they are.

And sure, the people in charge (administrators, staff, and security) need to get better. They need to learn how to communicate to students as if students are adults, even if some of them don’t seem to “deserve” that treatment. They need to continue to improve mental health resources, diversity resources, AJust support, and any number of policy changes on the lists that various Grinnell students and student groups have presented to them. When the staff at Grinnell acts on parts of that list, they should be recognized, as you did in the staff editorial. However, the administrators and staff certainly do not need our pity, nor do they need to be defended. They are here to channel even the most personal anger in ways that keep students safe and preserve the freedoms that have brought students to this college in the first place. Changes at Grinnell will not happen if we refuse to engage with the painful process of speaking truth to homophobic power structures both inside and outside of Grinnell. We must recognize that speaking that truth in a largely unsecured environment will be discomforting to those who need to hear it most. Recognition of positive, normative changes from the administration need not take place at the expense of the students who have been doing positive work in their community and whose work will continue to be necessary.

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

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