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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The "Expression of Intolerance"


At 1:47 pm on Saturday, September 29th, I received an email addressed to [H-SC Students] with the subject line "Expression of intolerance." I hope that most of you read this email as well, but I can't help but wonder how much thought anyone put into it. I know that, as a senior, I've received a couple emails like this in the past. Unfortunately, intolerance just keeps happening. For those of you who haven't read or seen the email, I will copy it here for you:

I am sorry to report to you that last night someone left an expression of intolerance on the wall of the large bathroom in Venable. To the person(s) responsible, please know that the entire Hampden Sydney College community condemns your behavior. That is not how we choose to live here. I have removed the expression and Buildings and &Grounds personnel have been asked to clean the rest of the bathroom.
We are all diminished by this behavior. Let us strive to be better.
If anyone has information about this act, please let me know.
David Klein"

A couple of things bother me about this email. First, I'm disappointed by the action that caused this email to be sent out in the first place. That should probably go without saying. The part that bothered  me a bit more, though, is how incredibly vague the email was. Not only do I not know what the message actually was, but I don't know who it was aimed at. My immediate first thought was that it was an anti-gay message. I was ready to condemn the students (yet again) for the intolerance I've experienced since I started this school. I was shocked to find out, though, that the message was actually one of racial intolerance. For some reason, I thought that the school was actually getting past this sort of hate and immaturity.

I was even more shocked to find out that a friend of mine--an African American friend, at that--was the first to report seeing the message. As soon as I found out that he was the one who found it, I asked him if I could interview him for this article. I'm pleased to say that he agreed, so I sent him some questions, and he gave me some responses. What follows, now, is my interview with Kerrington Shields, Class of 2014.
Walter: What were you doing the night you found the "message of intolerance"?
Kerrington:  I was watching a movie with my friend in Venable basement and I went to use the bathroom and saw it sprayed on the wall in shaving cream.
W: What was your first thought when you found it? What did it say? 
K: I was upset when I found it. I like to think that this is an accepting community in which I could feel comfortable, but when I saw "F*** N******" on the wall I was disconcerted to say the least.
W: Did it surprise or shock you to find the message?
K: I'm not necessarily surprised that there are people with racist sentiments in our community, but I am surprised that somebody felt comfortable enough to do that. I don't want to walk past someone on campus and have to wonder whether or not that particular person condones such behavior. It significantly damages one's sense of community. My greatest feeling was disappointment; we are Hampden-Sydney brothers and something like this should never happen again.
W: What did you do after you found the message?
K: I didn't really know what to do at the time. It ruined my night. I went back and showed my friend a picture of it and then told him that I had to go back to my dorm. I took the expression personally even though it wasn't meant specifically for me; but that's the thing about racism and intolerance, it ignores the merits of every individual and insults them for no reason.
W: Is this the first time you have experienced this type of intolerance on campus?
K: I'd heard plenty of stories from my friends about racism on this campus, but I always tried to shut it out of my mind. What I saw written on that bathroom wall that night made it nearly impossible to do that anymore. It was the first explicitly racist encounter that I've had on this campus.
W: I've personally been on the receiving end of hate enough here at H-SC. Plenty of name calling (Fag and gay and such). Do you ever experience discrimination from classmates or from anyone on campus (even in small doses)?
K: There's nothing concrete that I'd dealt with prior to this occurrence. I received an email last year about an expression of intolerance, but I couldn't really understand the gravity of such an 'expression' until I was confronted with one.
W: How did you feel about Dean Klein's address to campus? Was it adequate in dealing with the situation?
K: I think it was adequate, however I think it would help if the email specified the type of intolerance (racial, homophobic, etc.). In fact, the email should simply say that there was a 'racist expression' or a 'homophobic expression.' I also believe that occurrences such as these should be mentioned in the newspaper every time that they occur.
W: Do you feel like the administration takes these matters seriously enough?
K: I've no idea how the administration handles this type of situation so I can't really say. I just hope that they get the word out about these kinds of things. It doesn't seem to me that many people on this campus knew anything about this incident. Problems like this don't just go away; they must be confronted.
W: I was told you took a picture of the message. Would you like the photo to appear on my blog?
K: I'll email you the picture; you can use it if you want to.
W: Do you have anything else you might like to add or say about this matter?
K: First, I'd like to thank my friends for the support that they gave me during this time; it's not something that I received a lot of in high school. This is a great community and I am proud to be a Hampden-Sydney man. As a Christian, I'd like to say to whoever did this that I forgive him and hope that he repudiates the pernicious and offensive words that he wrote on that wall. It took me two days to be able to say that; I am still in the process of moving on.

Thank you so much Kerrington, for helping me get this out there. You said a lot of really powerful things that I'd like to draw special attention to.

"Problems like this don't just go away; they must be confronted" 
"I couldn't really understand the gravity of such an 'expression' until I was confronted with one"
"that's the thing about racism and intolerance, it ignores the merits of every individual and insults them for no reason."
"It would help if the email specified the type of intolerance"
"It significantly damages one's sense of community"
"It ruined my night"

Hampden-Sydney brags about the sense of community that we build here, but it is exactly times like these that make me doubt the validity of a "Hampden-Sydney Brotherhood." I like to believe that the community we are trying to build here can work, but there are certain problems that seriously need to be corrected. As Kerrington said, we need to confront these issues. WE can't just pussy-foot around them with vague emails that say "an expression of intolerance" was found on campus. I understand that, to the majority of campus, this isn't going to seem like a big deal, but what if it was you? What if it was your night that was ruined? What if it was you who felt personally victimized by another student? If we are to be a true brotherhood, then we need to consider the position of our brothers and feel empathy for one another. When a problem like this affects one of us, or a part of us, if should affect all of us. This "expression" not only makes the express-er look bad, but it also reflects negatively on the entire campus, the entire brotherhood, and the entire idea of Hampden-Sydney College.

In closing, I'd like to just say a couple more things. Firstly, I have decided against posting the picture that Kerrington sent me. We know now what the message said, but seeing it myself made me feel pretty pissed, myself. Now maybe I'm wrong in withholding it, but I just cannot bring myself to post it right now. Secondly, to the author of the "expression of intolerance"-- You should be ashamed. Seriously. I hope that you get a chance to read this. I hope that you get a chance to see that you've hurt a brother. I hope that you get the chance to see that you've hurt a brother who is such a good person that he is willing to forgive you, even if I don't personally think you deserve it. Finally, I hope that you grow up. I hope that during your time here you might develop into a better person. I hope that you learn.

Thank you all for reading. I appreciate it, and I'm sure that Kerrington does, as well.

--Your Editor, Walter McCoy

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