(Not So) Safe Space

By Guest Contributor

Editors’ Note: The following text contains vulgarity. 

As both members of and allies to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer community at Middlebury, we are appalled by the homophobic letter that was written and taped on a student’s door two weeks ago. The letter included the phrases: “carpet-munching dyke,” “burn in hell,” “you say you’re gay but we know you’ve never fucked a guy… so we’re gonna fuck you till you’re straight,” concluding with the statement, “I know you want it.”

The student notified Public Safety and an investigation is under way. She also received support from their Commons Dean, Professors, and other members of the Middlebury community. However, the student expressed that other than informing Public Safety, none of the people notified knew what further actions to take. No one knew how to answer the question she had: how should students be notified of this incident, if and when she chose to share her story?

When such a violent and hateful statement is written, other members of the community deserve to know. The student divulged this incident to us out of concern for other LGBTQ students so that we may protect one another, so that perhaps others who have experienced similar threats can know that they are not alone, and so that we can engage in dialogue about the incidents of homophobia at Middlebury instead of pretending it never happens here.

As members of the LGBTQ and Middlebury communities, we firmly maintain that these words will never and should never be tolerated. However, we should not have to spread this message alone. The administration and rest of the college community must meet us halfway. For anyone who stands up against hate speech, this is an incident we all must care about and confront together.

In light of the 9/11 incident, we question which actions on this campus are condemned publicly by the administration as “conduct unbecoming of a Middlebury student,” and which are not. When hate speech is used, particularly in conjunction with threats of violence and rape, it threatens everyone. It threatens our ability to feel safe as visible members of the LGBTQ community. It threatens allies who fight against homophobia. It threatens anyone who stands against rape culture and sexual violence. No student on this campus should feel scared to walk to their room alone at night, unsafe being who they are, or that they lack support in standing up to hate speech and sexual violence.

On Monday, Dean Collado sent an all-campus email, relating that a “Middlebury student reported receiving a disturbing and threatening printed note left at the door to her residence hall room.” The email went on to remind the campus of Middlebury’s Anti-Harassment/Discrimination Policy. While Collado admonished harassment and discrimination, she did not increase awareness about the homophobic nature of the letter and sexually violent threats that were made. The email did not show that the letter was targeted toward a member Middlebury’s LGBTQ community. It also occurred a significant time lapse after the actual event, and only after the Queers and Allies Board had reached out to the administration asking why there had been no greater action taken after this incident. We write this op-ed in a hope that our administration’s commitment to condemning hate speech is greater than what has been conveyed thus far.

This incident and the gaps in communication and support that followed show the need for an LGBTQ coordinator position at Middlebury. An LGBTQ coordinator is a staff/faculty person responsible for ensuring the personal, academic, and social success of LGBTQ-identifying students, and allies. Peer institutions including Amherst, Williams, Dartmouth, Oberlin, and Wesleyan have LGBTQ coordinators.

At Middlebury, LGBTQ students may turn to the counseling center for support, but who on the administration serves to advocate for our needs? Ideally, all members of the administration would fill this role. This incident highlights the fact that this hope is not the reality. There is still no mandated Cultural Competency, Ally or Safe-Space trainings for Faculty or Res-Life Staff, and incidents of academic and social bias continue for LGBTQ-identifying students.

We must not gasp at this event as if it exists in isolation. It should not surprise us. There are, sadly, homophobic threats and graffiti that go seemingly unnoticed on campus every year: from the removal of Gaypril posters to more aggressive hate speech directed at LGBTQ members of the community. This event is part of a depressingly regular pattern. While many Middlebury students can call it a “safe space,” events like these show us that homophobia is present here. We must begin to look critically at the ugly parts of the bubble we live in and learn how to address and solve them together as students, faculty, staff, and administration. Part of being an ally to the LGBTQ community is active affirmation and inclusion, not passivity or tolerance. As a group, Q&A works towards these goals, but our resources are limited in how much campus-wide action we can take.

Where do we go from here? We are publicizing this action in the hopes that it will raise active dissent from Middlebury students, faculty and administration. We are calling on students to channel that dissent into dialogue and collaboration. On Tuesday Oct. 15 at 7 p.m. in the Carr Hall lounge, Q&A will be hosting a special debrief for students, faculty, staff, and the administration to discuss this incident, and what efforts we can take to confront homophobia and sexual violence on our campus. Furthermore, we are calling on the college community at large to take a stand and stop being silent when we hear “that’s so gay,” “pussy,” “faggot,” or a joke endorsing homophobia or rape culture. We need to discuss this incident with our peers, whether or not they themselves identify as allies or LGBTQ. We need to work not only to change the fabric of Middlebury to prevent these hateful incidents from happening, but also to acknowledge that homophobia, hate speech, and rape culture do happen here, and will not be eliminated without action from the entire community.