In light of the campus climate surrounding the BDS resolution and the Israel-Palestine conflict, a string of antisemitic and Islamophobic hate speech has been circulating the anonymous online forum of Yik Yak. In the past two weeks, President Hill and Dean Roellke responded to these incidents via campus-wide emails that addressed this toxic and antagonistic social media behavior, as well as Vassar’s campus climate in general.
Dean Roellke’s email, sent on Feb. 16, expressed his concern for the way that a small number of people within the Vassar community had been acting and urged these voices to stop treating their classmates and peers at Vassar with “contempt and intolerance.” The email continued by quoting a passage from the Vassar College Student Handbook regarding students’ obligation to be respectful and accepting of their community at large.
While the emails sent out by President Hill and Dean Roellke do acknowledge the hate speech occurring throughout campus, we at The Miscellany News believe this initial response by the Administration was insufficient. The emails’ accusatory tone effectively condemned the behavior of the student body but did not offer any tangible, meaningful solutions moving forward.
Dean Roellke’s email in particular read as condescending, a chastisement that offered no concrete help or plan. We at The Miscellany News believe that these campus climate problems cannot be solved on their own and require the whole-hearted support of the Administration
Toxic exchanges featuring antisemitism and Islamophobia have also taken hold in spaces outside of campus. The discourse of BDS can not be boxed in by the confines of Raymond Avenue.
A host of articles, including a recent piece from The Observer written by a Vassar alumni, and a piece written a few days ago by the Daily News entitled “Hatred on the Hudson” have discussed the BDS resolution climate and labeled Vassar as an antisemitic institution whose administration is in support of said ideals.
The College is experiencing a barrage of outside scrutiny from alumnae/i in the form of letters, emails and social media. The Administration calls for us to all “get along” on campus, yet we wonder what this means for those voices that continue to pour in from off campus. Where do the alumnae/i voices and opinions lie in this dialogue and who is regulating them to make sure discourse remains accessible and safe?
We acknowledge that this outside pressure from alumnae/i and external publications puts the Administration in a difficult position both from a moral and a financial standpoint. It is likely that they may not know how to act and navigate through this complex and loaded dialogue that affects multiple moving parts within the campus and network psyche.
Still, their initial confusion should not result in general inaction. Despite pressure from the alumnae/i, the Administration’s goals should be to protect the student body that populates the school right now, protecting those students who have been hurt and victimized by the spiteful discourse of BDS itself.
Although it is impossible to eliminate online forums such as Yik Yak, students and administrators must make attempts to respond to the damage that this anonymous discourse can cause.
Much of the recent controversy has surrounded visiting speakers who deliver polarizing lectures on campus. Students can be unaware of these extreme opinions and feel shocked and insulted in the lecturer’s aftermath, leading to extreme reactions and a climate of anger on campus.
To help placate this, we at The Miscellany News propose an administrative system in which orgs that feel strongly about a visiting lecturer would be able to put forth a short statement or opinion that would appear on the campus calendar next to the event listing.
With research, it is not difficult to understand a speaker’s fundamental beliefs; however, this information needs to be more easily accessible to students so that they know who has been invited to speak before the lecture begins. Orgs that feel passionately in favor of or against a lecturer can then use their research to serve as mediators between the speaker and the general student body, thus creating a stronger dialogue surrounding the event and opening up spaces for students to respond safely.
In addition to this written input about controversial lectures, it would be valuable for the orgs sponsoring these events to host pre- or post-lecture discussions. We believe that post-lecture discussions, as Students for Justice in Palestine recently offered, give students the opportunity to debrief and discuss what they have just heard in a constructive way.
Though conversation is not comparable to anonymous hate speech, providing these outlets for discussion promotes an atmosphere of constructive exchange that does not encourage the same hostility anonymous social media does.
We believe that the responsibility of the Administration lies in taking immediate action to respond to incidents that have already occurred. Punishment is not an option for the anonymous perpetrators. What matters most now is focussing on the victims of charged attacks instead of sending emails that accomplish little beyond chastising the entire student body. We need an administration that isn’t afraid to take meaningful measures to protect its students.
On Monday morning, the Bias Incident Response Team sent out an email that announced the creation of upcoming spaces for student sharing and healing. We at The Miscellany News believe that this type of restorative space is a step in the right direction.
These spaces focus on the victims and on recovery, dealing with the hate speech incidents in a way that is constructive. Beyond this, it is important to remind students that are not necessarily comfortable with sharing in a public space of the resources that are available to them, such as CARES and The Listening Center.
The anonymous hate of recent weeks has contributed to a toxic campus environment that all members of the Vassar community have a responsibility to respond to. As we work towards respectful discourse, we must analyze the problems that exist and do what is in our power to work towards a safer campus.
—The Staff Editorial represents the opinions of at least 2/3 of our Editorial Board.