Posts Tagged 'GLBT'

The Dangerous Crusade Against “Hate” Speech

George Heinrichs

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I am entirely against what was written on the walls of Ross last year, and I am proud to be a member of a community that speaks out against hate speech. What concerns me are some of the posters that MOQA (Middlebury Open Queer Alliance) put up around campus, bearing the slogan “Stop Hate Speech.” Something about those words resonated with me. Is it possible to “stop” hate speech? Is the purpose of stopping hate speech to ensure that everyone at Middlebury feels comfortable? Who decides what is hateful? The posters raise a serious issue—not just about hate speech, but free speech in general.

Stopping speech of any kind, no matter how obnoxious, risks stopping ideas. The opinions that make us most uncomfortable are the ones that need the most protection. That is why there is constitutional protection for free speech. If all speech were innocuous there would be no need to protect it. Scribbling a homophobic remark on a dean’s door is not the declaration of an idea. Make no mistake, whoever did this is no brave advocate of a repressed idea. Let’s agree that a foul attack on gays written on a dean’s door constitutes hate speech, and we should find ways, if there are ways, to prevent it from happening again. Yet let’s also distinguish the act from the dissemination of an offensive idea.

What if, instead of writing foul language at night, the student tried to publish an argument in The Campus claiming that homosexuality is a sin? What if he argued against gay marriage—a position held by 58% of Americans and most of the current presidential candidates? Is that hate speech? Though I would personally condemn the notion, I’d fight to give the homophobe the right to declare that phobia. Isn’t this the best way to battle speech that offends us— by meeting it head on, and addressing it?

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Balancing Red and Blue Views: Paint the College Purple

Nathan Ackerly

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Middlebury College is a school that touts its commitment to campus diversity and tolerance as one of its greatest strengths. However, the real make-up of our student body and the one-sided bias of our campus media is a glaring contradiction to what is said openly. Our student body and its political views are essentially homogeneous. This is mostly due to Middlebury’s flawed recruitment strategy, which ignores at least half of the nation and discriminates against the vast majority of American citizens through economic means.

The recent debate surrounding some offensive graffiti aimed towards the LGBT community brought out a nasty side to Middlebury’s usually complacent and apathetic student body. The first reaction was one of disbelief: “how could anybody on our campus hate gay people?” The second reaction was one of righteous anger. The weeks following the incident were full of accusations about which group of Middlebury’s students was responsible and therefore should be “re-educated.” The whole thing smacked of McCarthy’s communist witch-hunt, with those groups considered to be “homophobic” forced to vehemently pledge their innocence in the event or be forever socially blacklisted as homophobes.

On our primarily liberal campus, the person that expresses the “unsafe” view is usually ostracized. The majority of Middlebury’s hyper-liberal student body is simply intolerant of anything that does not jive with their point of view.
Just because somebody expresses misgivings about something like gay-marriage or the adoption of children by members of the LGBT community does not mean that they think members of the LGBT community are evil. However, should a person express this view in Middlebury, they will deal with a thirty minute sociology lecture from the nearest student activist during which other students glare at him or her with righteous anger.

It is this suppression of conservative views in Middlebury that causes tempers to explode and paint to be sprayed. My guess is that the perpetrator was sick and tired of not being able to have his opinions taken seriously, and thus resorted to shock value, probably writing something that he or she might not have really meant. While the crime is inexcusable and hurtful, its motive may not have been as sinister as we all think.

The lack of a healthy dialogue is caused by Middlebury’s biased recruitment policy. The majority of our student body is comprised of students from either New England or the Mid-Atlantic States. How many of these states have swung republican in the past few elections? Very few have. Middlebury recruits heavily in this region and almost not at all in others. The South, Southwest, and Midwest (made up of predominantly red states) are underrepresented at Middlebury.

The chief reason for the under-representation of the red states at Middlebury is our school’s abysmal financial aid policy. Don’t forget that the red States are also some of the poorest states in the union. There must be thousands of kids from rural towns that could make the cut for Middlebury academically, but would not be able to attend because they could not afford it and might not qualify for financial aid.

Since our overseas recruitment and financial aid are outstanding, our inability to adequately recruit within our own borders is inexcusable. We have an endowment of over 900 million dollars, and for some reason our administration have upped tuition, making it even harder for the working poor (of any race or ethnicity) to afford a decent education. As a direct consequence, our campus suffers from the lack of dialogue that a more conservative point of view would provide.

 

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Jessie Woodwell Bush, Middlebury Class of 1945

I call attention to the misguided “Don’t ask, don’t tell” military policy.  It has caused a critical loss of language experts in the military.

Alan Simpson, a professor at the University of Wyoming, has called a change in military policy “long overdue.” He echoes the disturbing news reported by Nathaniel Frank in 2004 regarding 88 language specialists (many of them Arabic-language translators and interrogators) booted out of the Army since 1998 because they were gay. That is a shocking loss, since Arabic language skills are desperately needed.

I feel that Middlebury College, a leader in the study of languages, should be concerned about the loss of language experts in our military.

Redefining Diversity

Aki Ito

I’m not white, I’m not American, and I grew up in two very different cultures. What does that make me? My friend, who recently told me that he considers himself a “diverse person,” would tell me that I’m a diverse person, too. But what does that mean?

Maybe diversity could be, or perhaps even should be, used for something other than a population— i.e. the individual. Darwin thought that the diversity of species allowed for natural selection, and many companies bend over backwards to recruit a diverse workforce. Of this year’s incoming class at Middlebury, 62% is White/Non-Hispanic, 12% is a non-resident alien, 10% is Asian/Pacific Islander, 7% is Hispanic, 4% is Black/Non-Hispanic and 1% is American Indian/Alaskan Native. But the population breakdown doesn’t say anything in and of itself: What really counts is the school climate.

Therefore, do students at Middlebury feel comfortable and safe regardless of their backgrounds? What is Middlebury, as an educational institution, doing to promote an understanding of others? Is Middlebury an environment in which individual students can face, embrace, and take pride in their differences?

Most of us are different from the idealized norm. I mean, who’s white, male, rich, straight, fit, smart, mentally stable, and funny, all at the same time? Most people, I would hope, don’t fit into all of those categories, and that means that we share a common ground of having strayed from our culture’s definition of perfection. It’s easy to ignore the parts of us that don’t fit into this myth, but that means that we have to suppress, silence, and erase ourselves.

Passivity is just another euphemism for intolerance. Much in the same way that those who aren’t actively antiracist are racist, it’s not enough for the college to not discriminate against applicants of color, or of low-income backgrounds, or of an LGBT sexual orientation. The school must actively recruit and retain many different kinds of students, because exposure is the first step to acceptance. Then, the school needs to actively encourage people from different backgrounds to interact with each other. All kinds of prejudice exist in our society, and our own prejudices don’t magically disappear when we get to Middlebury. Since we all like to stay in our comfortable little bubbles that isolate us from the rest of the world, it’s unlikely that we’ll step outside of our own homogenous groups. That’s where college policy should come in and give us a little push.

By forming connections with those who are different from ourselves and from the cultural norm, we come to accept these “different” aspects of them. That’s when we can begin to uncover the “different” aspects of ourselves that we have buried for so long.

Diversity is, at its endpoint, about the individual. That’s why it makes more sense to say, “I consider myself to be a diverse person,” meaning that you tolerate difference in yourself and others, than it does to apply the word to a population and generate statistics from it. The high percentage of international students on campus doesn’t mean anything if that doesn’t help us reevaluate the preconceptions we have about other cultures, and in turn, reevaluate the way we see differences in others and ourselves.

So, are you a diverse person?

Middlebury’s Flawed Policy Regarding On-Campus Military Recruiting

Roman Graf, Associate Professor of German

On Wednesday, April 11, 2007, a significant group of faculty, staff, and students congregated in McCullough social space for a discussion of the recent homophobic epitaphs written on the walls of Ross Commons. President Liebowitz opened the meeting with a question: “Why here? What about our campus culture breeds an environment where acts of homophobia, misogyny, and intolerance can take place?”

As in all of the innumerable meetings I have attended at this institution where issues of diversity were discussed, people had the chance to vent their frustrations and offer possible explanations for the “issue” under consideration. As the meeting progressed, I found myself in yet another situation where the outcome was predictably twofold: the students affected by discrimination felt better about their lives at Middlebury and the administration conveyed the sense that it was going to do whatever necessary to rectify the problem. Both of these outcomes are, of course, illusory: students feel better, but their situation has not changed in the least, and the administration merely conveys a sense of action without actually having gone beyond a discussion of the problem. Nothing changes. Change is not the purpose of these meetings. If it were, they would be held with the “perpetrators” in the room.

Let me try to answer President Liebowitz’s question by analyzing our current policy for on-campus military recruiting. Quoting a friend of mine, Franci Kendall, who bases her sentiments on Suzanne Pharr’s Homophobia: A Weapon of Sexism, I contend that, “every system is exquisitely designed to produce the results it gets. To change the result you have to change the system.” Could it indeed be that the very foundations of our institution, its administrative structure, (including the trustees, its curriculum, its committees, its hiring practices, etc.) participate in or actually create the discrimination they claim to oppose?

If we consult our handbook, we find:

Policy for On- Campus Recruiting: The College’s protocol with regard to all employers who wish to recruit on campus is to ask that they sign a nondiscrimination agreement certifying that the opportunities they offer are available to all qualified Middlebury students, in keeping with our policy prohibiting discrimination ‘in admission or access to its educational or extracurricular programs, activities, or facilities, on the basis of race, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, age, marital status, place of birth, service in the armed forces of the United States, or against qualified individuals with disabilities on the basis of disability.'”

This is an excellent, very progressive nondiscrimination statement guaranteeing every student on campus equal opportunities. However, if we continue to read, these guarantees evaporate in front of our eyes.

Also from the handbook: “If an employer other than a recruiter for a branch of the U.S. military is unable to sign this agreement, we allow them to recruit only on the condition that they hold an open meeting, advertised to the entire campus community, at which they must provide information on their organization’s recruitment practices and explain their specific policies.”

Consequently, if I am an employer that discriminates against any of the above-mentioned groups, all I have to do is say so in an open forum and I can continue with my discriminatory practices. Not only can I continue my discrimination in my organization, but also Middlebury College sanctions said discrimination by allowing me to show prejudice in my hiring practices on Middlebury’s campus. It is quite astounding how the words in the nondiscrimination statement remain just that— words. They have no relevance in the real world because once confronted with reality— the discriminatory practices of an employer— they cease to matter. Discrimination continues.

We are sending the message to our students that in the academic environment of Middlebury College, what we discuss, deliberate, and learn— in short, the academic mission of the college— is separate from the “real” world. It is an academic exercise unrelated to the well being of real people. As a student expressed at Wednesday’s meeting, we support our students who strive for good grades at the expense of their contemplating the effects of their education on themselves and others. We separate intellectual pursuit from personal growth, intellect from emotion, and the ideal from the real. With policies such as the one above, we fail to “cultivate the intellectual, creative, physical, ethical, and social qualities essential for leadership in a rapidly changing global community.” (Middlebury College Mission Statement)

The recruiting statement gained importance two years ago when the military, an openly discriminatory, homophobic institution, wanted to recruit on Middlebury College’s campus. Under the rules of our handbook, at that time members of the military could recruit after openly declaring their discriminatory practices. And for the first time, they did. They moved the actual signing of interested people from the town of Middlebury to the campus of Middlebury College. However, this incident created such turmoil on campus that the community held various meetings to deliberate whether an openly homophobic employer should be able to recruit at Middlebury, or whether we should change our recruiting policy to demonstrate and uphold our opposition to homophobia. Every committee on campus, from faculty council to staff council to the SGA to the faculty, urged President Liebowitz to reconsider the policy. One might think that once confronted with such an overwhelming groundswell of support for the change and outrage against homophobia, Liebowitz would agree to adjust the recruiting policy. He did not. At least not in favor of the people that remain subjected to discrimination. With what, in my opinion, constituted a slap in the face of every queer person on campus, President Liebowitz decided against opposing homophobia. This also supported waiting for the national debate concerning the Solomon amendment to come to a close through a verdict by the U.S. Supreme Court. Introduced by Donald Rumsfeld, the Solomon Amendment forces institutions of higher education that receive federal funding to allow the armed forces to recruit on their campuses. Since the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Solomon amendment, our recruiting policy has been revised and now reads:

“If a recruiter for a branch of the U.S. military is unable to sign the nondiscrimination agreement, the College requests that an open meeting be held as specified. The 2006 unanimous ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Rumsfeld v. FAIR allows military recruiters on campus if colleges want to continue receiving federal money. At Middlebury the decision means that the College must permit recruiting by a branch of the military even if the recruiter refuses to provide an open informational meeting.”

Now the military does not even have to state its homophobia anymore. It can simply be homophobic. Furthermore, this phrasing pretends that the College has no choice but to succumb to the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court. Nothing could be further from the truth. If the College were willing to give up its federal funds (student aid is exempt from the Solomon Amendment) and find ways to substitute for them, it could become a leader among institutions by significantly and actively opposing homophobia. Instead, we condone discrimination and void our nondiscrimination statement when it comes to recruiting on campus. What is the price for the rights of homosexuals at Middlebury College?

And we wonder why there is homophobic hate speech on campus? Homophobia and misogyny are intrinsic to the very nature of this institution.