Creating a kinder campus

Recent examples of intimidation on campus point to a need for basic respect.

.FROM THE OFFICE for MULTICULTURAL AND ACADEMIC AFFAIRS

We are writing today because we have witnessed a persistent pattern of strident, hateful messages and actions that individually might go unnoticed in such a large academic community.

However, because these incidents have continued, we are acting both individually and collectively to prevent our campus from becoming a toxic place. We are asking each of us who work and learn at this prestigious university to revisit the reality of our campus climate.

Because some readers might be unaware of recent events, we offer a brief chronology, beginning with fall term and continuing through spring break week: anti-Semitic literature slid under the office doors of a social science professor and graduate students; a swastika in Centennial Hall; misogynistic fliers using “PUSSIES” as an acronym to inflame readers; threats of harm (“you will die”) on a student’s residence hall door; “lesbians are whores” on Bailey Hall bathroom mirrors and doors; “no gooks and niggers” on a sign at Klaeber Court – and the list could go on.

Why is it important that we speak of these things? That we condemn them? We do so for their potential for great harm. The swastika is not an innocent mark of graffiti, but a symbol of the intended extermination of an entire people – it recalls the death camps of Treblinka and Auschwitz.

Names such as “gook” and “nigger” made possible the napalming of Vietnamese villages, the lynching of black men and the rape of black women. And more recently, the 1994 Rwandan genocide was aided by calling the Tutsi people “cockroaches.” These slurs and epithets dehumanize people and allow others to dismiss their uniqueness and value.

Perhaps not since the Sen. Joe McCarthy witch hunt for communists in the 1950s, has the issue of free speech been so important and yet so besieged. While it is absolutely crucial, particularly in the academic marketplace of ideas, to strongly defend the right to free speech, so too is it essential for us to encourage and nurture a climate of respectful discourse.

Disagreement and conflict are not inherently negative, and indeed, growth comes from the free exchange of different ideas and viewpoints. But name-calling and vandalism are rooted in ignorance, misunderstanding and cowardice, and their intent is only to hurt and harm others.

Most of us have at one time been the object of ridicule and name-calling. We can easily remember how it made us feel, and we know deep inside that we never want to feel like that again. Let us work together to make this academic environment a community built on respect and kindness.

This begins with personal responsibility. If you know anything about the perpetrators of these hate crimes, we encourage you to report it to the University Police Department. And we especially ask students to give thought to possible initiatives that will help create a positive campus climate.

We have some ideas, but more important, we want to hear from you. Contact the Office for Multicultural and Academic Affairs at [email protected], and let’s continue efforts that will develop respect for each other, end this year on a more positive note and take us into a kinder 2005-06 academic year.

Respectfully,

The Office for Multicultural and Academic Affairs

Please send comments to [email protected]