So, it’s a new semester and we’re back.
As with the beginning of most semesters, I have received many emails telling me about the book store’s hours, lurking individuals, and natatorium conditions (Thanks, Dr. Moore). They usually remain unopened, which shows in my number of unread emails that are approaching 2K. I don’t feel bad; for twenty bucks a month, Yahoo can watch over them. Among my recent emails, I noticed one from Dr. Erickson.
Now I have never met Dr. Erickson, though I have met his wife. My mother and I spent a nice couple of hours sitting with her at a political fundraiser. So, the fact that he took the time to email me was intriguing. The content of the email was not.
Dr. Erickson referred to a “Whites only, no Coloreds” sign left on the door of a student’s dorm room as “an ugly incident.” I realize that Dr. Erickson must maintain a certain level of decorum and decency. It is his office and I don’t presume to tell him how he should conduct himself. Fortunately, I’m just a guy with an opinion and I only have to avoid the bad words that won’t get published. The fact that the note was left on a national holiday that celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. and the diversity that he envisioned, compounds its grievous nature.
In this day and age when news assaults us 24/7, it is hard to keep up with bad behavior. It was just a few months ago that Tyler Clementi jumped off of a bridge in response to the bad behavior of his fellow students. Did we learn nothing? The difference between right and wrong is not vague enough to excuse Clementi’s tormentors nor is it gray enough to make the note merely an ugly incident. Ladies and gentlemen, this is hate speech.
It would be easy to excuse the incident as youth run amok, immaturity is the companion of insensitivity. It would be easy to chalk up the incident to someone trying to be funny. I would ask, in which world is this behavior funny? Folks, people have died to ensure that this kind of humor is now and always will be unacceptable and completely without humor. To call it tasteless allows for the idea that the person who left the note was using the first amendment to make a statement. Hate laws make this argument invalid.
I realize that many students live in a world that is somewhat detached from the outside. That is the beauty of the college experience. It allows the student to figure out how to define one’s self while living in a safe environment. Unfortunately, that safe environment turned hostile with the ugly incident on MLK Day.
The note left on the student’s door is a symptom. It is a symptom of the disease of racism that pervades our society. Admittedly, those who vocalize such beliefs are becoming residents of the fringe. Forums in which such thought is the norm have dwindled. Yet, there are young people who still see such hate-thought as acceptable. As a society, we must ask ourselves, why?
We live in a diverse world. There is room for everyone and their opinion. I’m a firm believer in the adage, “I may not agree with you, but I’ll defend with my life your right to say it.” To quote the Bard, “Therein, lies the rub.”
As a person, school, society, and civilization we must ask ourselves where to draw the line. I would suggest that the line should be drawn when it is used to divide society and subjugate one sector to another. The idea that one must make another inferior to feel adequate, is not only fundamentally wrong, it is also dangerous. The box within which we put another is the box in which we must operate. The parts of them that don’t fit go unappreciated and under-utilized. A box is no place to be.
I applaud Dr. Erickson in the way that he handled the matter. It shows that he is the right person in the right position. I hope that, when caught, the person responsible will be expelled; to do less would minimize the action. The outside world is hard enough and making it harder for each other, within the cocoon of Wittenberg, is nonsense.
When this is over, I propose that we put this incident behind us. But, always remember that in our little part of the world, evil exists; to imagine that it does not would be naïve and dangerous.
I don’t know what the actions of this one misguided person says about Wittenberg, but I do know that the reaction will say much. If we learn nothing else, please note that actions have consequences and the consequence should fit the deed.
(Joseph Panstingel / email@example.com)