Britt Axelson ‘21
Our country is polarized, and we need to work on speaking with people we do not agree with. It can be challenging to be empathetic to views other than our own. However, examining our underlying assumptions and making the effort to consider the views and life experiences of those that are different from us will help us grow as people and as a community. With that in mind, I would like to respond to The Fenwick Review article, “Holy Cross Hysteria”.
Although there is much I don’t agree with in the article, the author does raise some important points. I believe there is room for improvement in how the administration addresses the campus about incidents of violence and hate. I think the language used to address these acts and the evidence required before officially labeling something a “hate crime” are all conversations that should be ongoing. However, the growing attention towards campus issues doesn’t have to be interpreted as painting our campus in a negative way. I view this as our campus being passionate, thoughtful and engaged. The fact that we don’t want to hide from these issues is what allows us to transcend them. So, although the administration should continue to improve the manner in which they communicate these acts to the campus community, the importance of this communication cannot be understated and responding to these incidents with concern, fear or anger is not unjustified. Yes, we have made a great deal of progress, but many Americans, including students on our campus, continue to face issues of discrimination and hostility. It isn’t pervasive but feeling threatened and unsafe is part of our reality. Sharing information allows the campus to remain engaged and helps those that need support find the resources they need.
Toward the end of the Fenwick article, the author makes the following claim, “America in 2019 is a pretty great place to exist: very few are truly victims, and all people – including women and minorities – have more opportunities now than at any other time in history.” This statement is exactly right; these groups have more opportunity than ever before because we have stepped up and held people accountable for acts of discrimination, bias and hate. But if we are going to stop now then what was the point? Is there a point where these groups are “equal enough” that we don’t need to care about instances of hate, and who gets to decide when we reach that point? Thinking this way is a slippery slope. To remain silent in the face of discrimination or hostility would be an act of regression, not proof of success. The history of discrimination towards marginalized groups is one of silence. Most marginalized communities have been hurt in the shadows and their stories dismissed. If we do not act in the face of hate, then we are encouraging it. If there are no consequences or concern in response to these incidents, then our community will not understand that these incidents are harmful and wrong. Without action, what is understood is that the groups being victimized do not matter.
For example, tearing down a bulletin board can be an act of “reckless drunkenness.” However, drunkenness does not justify or legitimize acts of aggression or destruction. Drunk or sober, everyone should be held accountable for their actions. Destroying a Black History poster, regardless of your state of sobriety or intention, is unacceptable and it is understandable that students of color might feel threatened or hurt. When we start to enable acts of destruction like this, we are opening the door to more of this type of behavior. If this behavior is acceptable when you are drunk, then how drunk do you have to be for it to be acceptable? This thinking puts the power in the hands of those committing the act to decide when it is “really” bad to destroy something and takes the power away from those who are actually victims.
The Fenwick piece also suggests, “Everyone who is fortunate enough to attend this school is far from being victimized.” It is true that it is a privilege to attend and receive a degree from Holy Cross. But making the claim that every student here is “far from being victimized” is dismissive and reflects a lack of empathy. This statement assumes that all Holy Cross community members are relatively the same. Everyone on this campus has their own unique identity and personal history. While it is unreasonable to expect everyone to fully know the experience of others, it is not acceptable to dismiss those experiences. Instead, it is in those moments when members of our campus feel victimized, we have an opportunity to learn and grow as a community. You can’t tell someone how to feel when these incidents happen. When the rainbow flag outside of Campion disappeared, I asked one of the Chaplains if it could have blown away. She said that the chaplains searched for it across campus unsuccessfully and considering that it was securely attached with plastic ties, it was unlikely. So, the queer community did not jump to the assumption that the flag was removed by someone rather than having just blown away, instead we had factual information that reinforced the belief that it was removed. And if it was, we do not know the exact intentions of the person or persons who removed it, but it still hurt to know that the symbol which indicates Campion House is a safe and welcoming space for us was lost.
When we had the courage to address the hate crime in the fall it led to the Engage Summit, but a large portion of the student body also asked for this day because of ongoing unrest on campus. This not only helped to legitimize the concerns of these students but also served as an opportunity to share the importance of these issues with other students who might not have been directly affected. Taking action like this can help lead to real change and helps give power to other victims to share their stories, as we have seen with the recent “Sexual Assault on the Hill” Instagram. During the time of the Engage Summit this account quickly garnered over 4,500 followers and 128 posts, revealing how many believe that this campus has not adequately addressed the seriousness of sexual assault.
It’s likely we will never know the intentions of those who committed acts that were reported, but they still happened. The vandalism was real, the missing flag was felt, and the reports of assault were heard. All of these incidents brought up feelings of insecurity, fear and disrespect. When we share the fact that members of our community feel this way, we are not calling the campus a hateful place. Instead we are allowing the community to better understand the experiences of others and hopefully helping to prevent future incidents.
I too hope that Holy Cross is a place where we assume the best in one another and a campus that strives to reach the truth. With those goals in mind, I think we need to encourage one another to share our experiences and not dismiss them.If we want to grow from the difficult year we have had, we need to communicate and acknowledge the feelings of all students. Through the rest of this semester and our time at Holy Cross, let us all work to lift up the voices and experiences of our community because to understand one another we have to hear from everyone.