On Friday, April 12 the phrase “God hates fags” was discovered written in red marker on a wall behind the door of the Center.
Chris Sundberg ’16 was one of the first to see the hate speech. “Seeing it was a bit of a shock,” he said, “I know Vassar isn’t perfect, but seeing [the vandalism] was proof that someone willfully hated the center so much they wanted to vandalize it and make a statement to everyone who is a part of it.”
Sundberg pointed the vandalism out to Assistant Director for Campus Life/LGBTQ and Gender ResourcesJudy Jarvis. “My initial reaction was disbelief—that this particular brand of hate speech was written inside the walls of a space that is so important to so many in the LGBTQ community was tough to believe,” Jarvis explained.
As Dean of the College Christopher Roelke noted in his email to the student body on Saturday, the hate speech was especially jarring due to the campus wide support of the LGBTQ community during the Westboro Baptist Church protests in February.
Tyler Fultz ’15, an intern for the LGBTQ Center, noticed that the campus typically gives more attention to outsiders—the WBC, for example—than to anonymous hate speech made on school grounds. However, this time community members are hopeful that these discussions will look different. Since the protest, he noted, “There has been a large push for students, faculty, and administration to take an active role in the response.”
Jarvis said of the WBC reaction, “We just had a huge outpouring of support for the LGBTQ community when an outside group used this exact same hate speech… So now how do we respond as a campus when it comes from inside our campus?”
In the campus-wide email Dean Roellke stated that Campus Life Response Team (CLRT) was planning on meeting the following Monday to assess how the campus should react and assure the students that Vassar is a safe and inclusive environment.
The CLRT, which is composed of members of the Residential Life Office, Safety and Security, Office of Health Education, Dean of Students Office, Campus Life and Diversity Office, the Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Office and a representative from the Vassar Student Association.
After the racist and misogynistic hate speech written last semester in Jewett House, the CLRT proposed town hall meetings to gauge campus reaction and reassure students. However, this time the team opposed a town hall and decided to instead celebrate the Vassar LGBTQ community. According to Jarvis, Vice President for Student Life Dallas Robinson ’14 brought the idea up to take this different approach.
After the meeting Roellke and the CLRT sent a follow up email to the Vassar community describing the campus response as “Reclaiming the LGBTQ Center.” Roellke said in the email, “Since thousands of us at Vassar stand united in love and respect for all people, this is an opportunity for our many voices to speak together far more strongly than that one hateful voice.”
“It is my hope that we can use this most recent example of intolerable speech as a catalyst for bringing our campus even closer together,” Roellke wrote in an emailed statement.
In part of reclaiming the Center, Roellke and CLRT invited those at Vassar to participate in two open houses on Tuesday. At these open houses the center supplied post-it notes and markers for people to write messages in support of the LGBTQ Center and community as a whole. The Center was also an open space for anyone to talk about the incident, with CARES counselors there if anyone needed their services.
“We wanted to host something in the LGBTQ Center and really reclaim the space as a loving and supportive one with our own words,” Jarvis said.
“At least 60 people came by the Center in the first three hours of our open house, including many people who have never come here before, which is really wonderful,” Jarvis continued, “There have also been a lot of staff and administrators who attended because they really wanted to show their support.”
Fultz shared Jarvis’ enthusiasm about the open houses, seeing nothing but support from students and faculty. “The response has been amazing; the walls inside and outside the Center right now are decorated with tons of allied support and positive messages,” he said.
However, the open houses are not the only planned response. The CLRT hopes to move forward and work with students to figure out other ways in which Vassar could be an inclusive community. One possibility is to have students sign a pledge, written by Spectrum org leaders, at the beginning of the school year.
“It’s just been so fantastic to see that Vassar as a whole doesn’t feel the same [as whoever vandalized the center] and gave us overwhelming support in response to this lone incident,” Sundberg said.
Fultz agreed. “We have chosen to take this incident and turn it into a positive experience for the LGBTQ community as a reaffirmation of love and acceptance of LGBTQ students, faculty, and administration at Vassar from both those in the community and the campus as a whole.” w