There are so many issues to deal with surrounding the recent hate crime on campus that it is difficult to know where to begin.
I think first we must acknowledge that there are real victims involved. Chief among them are the student who was the target of the harassment and his family.
This student has been made to feel unsafe in his second home here at Allegheny, a place where he should be able to be accepted and respected; his family members now have legitimate cause to worry about the safety of their child, whom they can not watch over and protect as they did when he was young.
The physical and emotional safety of this student is and should be paramount in our minds as we consider the proper course of action.
His anonymity and privacy must be maintained in order to keep him safe and to keep him from being an object of unfair intrusion by others, even those of us who only mean the best.
If at any point in the future this student chooses to come forward and make himself known, to speak out about his experiences and confront those who have acted to intimidate him, he will be welcomed, but no one can make that choice for him.
But he is not alone in feeling attacked. Every LGBT student on campus, every LGBT member of the faculty and staff – we are also victims of harassment.
The act perpetrated last week, whether a physical assault or the use of a hateful slur, is a hate crime because it is motivated by malice not just towards a single person but towards an entire group of people.
Hate crimes are an attack on the many through an attack on the one.
It is for this reason that I must respectfully disagree with Ms. Fiona Hensley’s statement in her letter last week that we as a community canbest “move forward” by “deny[ing] the perpetrators the attention they seek.”
There are times when it is best to remain silent.
A parent should ignore a child when it misbehaves for attention so as not to reinforce the negative behavior.
But this situation is very different.
We are not dealing with a temper tantrum or immature attention-seeking.
We are dealing with an attempt to harm another person.
Ignoring acts of intimidation only emboldens those who wish to harm others.
By extending a veil of silence over Allegheny, we as a community send a message to the prejudiced that we will tolerate their intolerance.
By not speaking out, we declare that we will allow ourselves to be harassed.
In the poem “Silhouette,” Langston Hughes writes about an African-American man lynched “in the dark of the moon / For the world to see.”
The complicated, even paradoxical truth that this poem reveals in its language of seeing in darkness is that those who hate are most effective when hidden and allowed to carry out their actions without being exposed.
Violence and bigotry breed in the darkness, and if we look away and pretend not to see it, we only encourage those who wish to harm to others.
As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”
We as a community – students, faculty, staff, and administrators – need to look at the painful, embarrassing truth of our situation: that we have allowed a culture to develop where many of us do not feel safe and would rather remain hidden than speak out because they fear reprisal or do not trust that they will receive the help and protection they need.
No student who is a victim of an assault should be made to feel violated a second time by having their privacy invaded or by being made a public spectacle. But that does not mean keeping quiet.
We can and should and must confront the culture of intimidation of LGBT individuals, and of anyone else who feels threatened, on this campus.
This can be done without subjecting anyone to further pain.
It saddens me deeply that many feel that they are best served by remaining silent, hidden, and scared, but it only supports my belief that we are at a crossroads where problems can no longer be swept under the rug but must be tackled head-on.
By our silence we only encourage the next act of harassment and violence, and the one after that, and the one after that.
The only way to make sure this sort of crime or one much more serious never happens is to declare, unequivocally and with our combined voices, that this aggression will not stand.
Dr. Ryan Singh Paul