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A take on a disturbing event

While I try not to explicitly reveal my entire identity on this blog, I sometimes blog about more local events. I'm aware that this might reveal more than I'd like, but sometimes it's necessary. Today, I feel it's important to blog about a more local experience. As local as it is, i suspect it plays itself out at multiple campuses each day.

At some point this past week, one of the first-year residents found a message which no one should find on her white board. Someone had written the word "nigger" on the whiteboard outside her room. The most prominent description says her mother also saw the unwanted and cruel message. Part of me would prefer to not write about this, to mask the word which was written, or depict it with euphamisms such as "the 'n word". But as part of my social work training, I've been learning about communication, and to mask the word is to diminish its ugliness.

My first reaction was "how could this happen on this campus?" Part of why I chose the college I did is because it's known for its diversity. We had an entire block of orientation dedicated to discussing issues of diversity. But then I had to think... Why not this campus?

Because as much as we claim to have respect for diversity, it's still not truly accepted by everyone. There are professors who assume everyone grew up the same way they did. There are professors who assume that everyone has a "boyfriend" or is single. There is the fact that we're a Catholic institution, and it's still sometimes assumed that everyone either is Catholic or doesn't want to attend a religious service on campus. There are students and professors who don't want to accommodate visible or invisible disabilities or illnesses. If you read differently, learn differently, think differently or even speak differently, it's not always treated respectfully. Anyone who uses a wheelchair is still excluded from living in some buildings or going to some events or having classes in certain buildings.

I've chronicled some experiences here, such as having other students question if RSD/CRPS is a real condition. Because, you know, I couldn't really need all those medications. There are still situations where I don't feel like I'm really treated equally. Yes, this is much, much better than high school, but it's not completely there yet. And I still feel a lot of tension under the surface.

I've spent time with other students who are treated less-than-optimally, and I've heard their stories. I'm not alone in my perceptions. And that's why I say "why not our campus?" We still have so far to go in learning to live alongside others who aren't "exactly like us". There is still an "us Vs. them" mentality, and it's not just on this campus. The reality is that until we individually address our own biases, we can't prevent what happened.

I can't appologize for what happened, because I didn't do it. But I can address personally the biases I have, and the assumptions I make. I can think more carefully about the privilages I have. I can (and have started to) go attend events where these privilages are discussed, or where those who don't have the same privilages I do share their stories. Then I can share and openly discuss these considerations.

In Communication and Interviewing Skills, we discussed that each of us will respond to a situation like this differently. Some are comfortable demonstrating. Others are comfortable discussing. Others are comfortable writing. Still others would rather vote with their money, time and choices. I don't know what opportunities are available or will become available, but for now, this post is my own contribution. I'll be thinking very seriously about the issues I've discussed here. I'll be listening to the stories and experiences of others, and I'd encourage you all to do the same.

Comments

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(Anonymous)
Oct. 9th, 2007 11:47 pm (UTC)
Oh, dear
It's not anonymous, it's me, Liz, from I Speak of Dreams.

Nickie, I'm sorry, I haven't stopped by for a visit in a long time. Thanks for your comment on my post about that jerk (jerkette?) Cal's comment.

Hmmn. Nasty stuff written on whiteboards (I assume those ubiquitous on-the-door, leave-me-a-note ones). Yes, the word is heinous, and shouldn't have happened.

But nasty stuff happening in dormitory hallways? I want to quote something you said earlier this year, in the post

"Disability and criticism: Or shooting ourselves in the foot to prove we have a gun"

You wrote:

"I think, to an extent, this is magnified by the internet. It's much easier to speak my mind on this blog, for instance, where I can post anything I want. It's much easier to criticize someone on an email list, in comments or on a blog than it is to actually talk to them directly. And it's much easier to attack the person than discuss the issue."

So here was another case of an anonymous commenter, so to speak, acting as a troll or an instigator.

We've learned not to feed the trolls.

I suppose that any hateful incident, such as this, is a good sprpingboard to ask ourselves how to behave more humanely.

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