After WBC protest, Vassar must continue to look inward

Since the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) announced its intention to protest at Vassar College, students have responded with efforts to strengthen solidarity and support and celebrate diversity on and off campus.

During this short amount of time, we have organized, fundraised and united to collectively strengthen our own community in the face of hatred and discrimination. However, while raising over $88,000 is an accomplishment worthy of some self-congratulation, we should not allow the passing of the protest to halt our discussions of privilege and power, nor our commitment to the mission of inclusion and acceptance of all people.

The protesters represent an incredibly radical example of intolerance,  and it is easy to feel like a perfectly accepting campus when juxtaposed with their views. Our challenge is thus to see ourselves and our own community with a critical eye and continue working towards a more equitable living and learning environment. Because, after all, this is about us, not them, and will continue to be about all of us far beyond the day of the WBC’s protest.

The energy amounted in response to the protesters arrival must be directed towards addressing one of the most common, yet subtle forms of intolerance on campus—microaggressions. These behaviors, ways of speaking and ideologies perpetuate sexist, classist, racist and other oppressive attitudes allow intolerance and inequity to persist in our lives. While at Vassar we may engage critically with theory behind issues of race, class, gender, and the intersections of all three, but it becomes more difficult when faced with these problems outside of an academic environment. How to tell a peer they have said something sexist, how to address the use of a racial slur, how to tell an authority figure they are being discriminatory, how to discuss these topics out loud and in social settings: these are all important actions that require incredible courage.

When confronted with these real-life scenarios, it often feels impossible to speak up. If Vassar were a truly open and inclusive environment, students would not be afraid to call out their peers in instances of discrimination or unequal treatment. We at The Miscellany News hope the collective power we have generated through our response to the WBC protesters might continue to fuel such mindful conversations.

There a number of clear examples in which Vassar has had to confront issues of racism and sexism inside its own community. Earlier this semester there were a number of hate speech incidents in the way of graffiti which were explicitly racist and sexist in their content.

Last year, the VSA and MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán) experienced conflicts surrounding questions of racism when members of MEChA felt they were unfairly denied funding after a prolonged meeting with council.

This semester there have been a number of conversations about policing, profiling and tensions between students, the Poughkeepsie community and campus security. These incidents are telling of the obstacles Vassar still has to overcome, and the importance of change on both the individual and structural levels.

Furthermore, we at The Miscellany News greatly appreciate the collaborative efforts among different campus organizations that address issues of identity, such as the LGBTQ Community Gathering Dinner last night, which included community-building activities led by Spectrum, ALANA leaders, and the Assistant Director for Campus Life/LGBTQ and Gender Resources. We feel that collaborations such as this open up a dialogue surrounding the intersectionality of race, class, gender identity, and sexual orientation, and encourage a sense of inclusion and community across campus. These events highlight the role of intersectionality in structures of power and privilege, and we believe even more support for similar functions would be beneficial to our community, and would lead to a greater consciousness of these intersections.

We also support the creation of more safe spaces for students in the Vassar community, such as the center for students who come from backgrounds of lower socioeconomic statuses or students with disabilities proposed last fall.

In turn, students must hold themselves accountable, and take it upon themselves to be as well informed on these issues as possible. We are lucky at Vassar to have a plethora of teach-ins, lectures, and other events in any given semester that deal with problems of intolerance and identity. Make a goal for yourself to attend several of these lectures a semester, take note when a professor tells you about an upcoming event, and most importantly, treat it as both an academic responsibility and a lifestyle choice.

In addition, with the mounting support of administrators, faculty and alumnae/alumni, we have an opportunity to create some real structural change in the wake of the WBC protesters. We must encourage more events like All College Days, more lecturers like Tim Wise, more solidarity between student groups, administrators and staff, and more actions to accompany our rhetoric of inclusion and equity.

Ultimately, we must deal with the entire spectrum of intolerance and not only address the most glaring examples of hate. Though Westboro Baptist Church may have been the catalyst which called us to action, we must continue our efforts to erase intolerance in ourselves, on our campus and outside of it, and never fool ourselves into thinking that our job is done.

 

—The Staff Editorial represents the opinion of at least 2/3 of the seventeen member Editorial Board.

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