What Middlebury Should Never Forget

By Guest Contributor

Editors’ note: The following text contains vulgarity and obscenities. Printed with Ada’s permission.

They say that if you forget your history, you are doomed to repeat it.

So, Middlebury, I think it’s time to do some remembering.

A year ago today a student received a rape threat at Middlebury College. In the words of the original letter left on the student’s door, “[you] 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” and finally, “I know you want it.”

Needless to say, these phrases are exceedingly not okay. 

Let me rephrase that. NO. NO. NO. YOU DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, TREAT ANOTHER HUMAN BEING LIKE THIS. 

I was not the person who received the letter, but I do know the recipient. She told me that she had been targeted in a homophobic threat her freshman year and that she was also the person who had to deal with this letter.

To be honest, I was and am completely and totally enraged. I believe people to be fundamentally human, so I’m not out to hunt down the person who wrote her that letter in order to casually castrate them. But my strongest memory of Ada is of her warm smile during a sign language club meeting that somehow seemed to laugh with me as I fumbled to form something coherent with my hands and at the same time to give me, a young first-year trying desperately to make some sort of home at Middlebury, the sense that someone here valued me. 

So just be damn glad that I am too committed to my belief in people to endorse casual castration.

I’ll let her tell the more detailed story of the two homophobic attacks, in a text she sent it to me, and then we’ll come back and chat. Here is a very small fragment of the illustrious life of Ada:

“So, freshman year, someone wrote ‘Hey Dyke! Go to Hell!’ on my whiteboard in Sharpie. It happened during Spring semester (March or April, not sure which). I reported it to my Dean and to Public Safety, who took some notes and talked to me once or twice. My Dean was incredibly helpful, and there was an all-student email sent out (I can forward it to you if you want, if I find it). But beyond that, there wasn’t very much done about it. I think we had a MOQA meeting about it — I also reported it to the MOQA co-presidents at the time. But MOQA had about 5 consistent members at that point, so word didn’t really get out.

So that was that incident. Then, this past semester, there was that whole incident with the letter being left on someone’s door that threatened to rape them because they were gay. That was me. I also reported that one to my Dean, and Public Safety talked to me and people on my hall several times about it and said they did everything they could to find out who had done it, but never came to a real conclusion. There was an all-student email that was sent out, but it didn’t discuss the homophobic nature of the letter and I was, to say the least, miffed about that. 

In both situations, I didn’t come out with this publicly, with my name attached, but I did what I could to make the incidents as known as possible without the possibility of revealing myself as the recipient of these attacks. Unfortunately, not very much was ever done about it, which was disappointing at the least. I really do wish more had been done about it — the fact that people don’t know this stuff happened/happens is really upsetting, because people think Middlebury is this really accepting place where LGBTQ people can get on without problems, but that’s not actually the truth, particularly for those who are not white, cis, and/or mainstream.  

So that’s about it. Let me know if you have any other questions for me, and I actually don’t have a problem with you using my name. The first event (the one that happened my freshman year, in Spring of 2010) I’m a lot more open about, mainly because I felt really threatened by the second one and became quite anxious about my personal safety after receiving that letter, but I don’t think there’s reason to fear for my physical safety anymore, so if you’d like to use my name, you may. Of course, you’re not required to, and if you do, just let me know so that I know that that’s happening [which of course I did before I published this].”

Here’s the reason I won’t let you forget this history, Middlebury College: because you, because we, failed her. A student was attacked and was left without any reason to believe that she was safe from someone raping her. Not only did we fail to protect her when she needed us, Middlebury, but this exact same situation could happen again to another student.

In terms of homophobia, Google and a few hours of research tell me that what Ada experienced was hardly an isolated incident of homophobia. In 2007, homophobic graffiti was sprayed in three different buildings on campus over the course of a month. In 2010, posters for “Gaypril” were ripped down. Last semester, a number of LGBTQ students were sent homophobic and racist messages on the app Grindr, one of which (and this is a direct quote from the campus wide email) included the statement “None are safe, none are free” and contained a photograph of a lynching.

In terms of rape and sexual assault, I personally know two people who were assaulted on Middlebury’s campus. They are the reality behind the It Happens Here Campaign, these two people who should not have had to experience physical violence in their institution of learning (if you don’t know what IHH is visit go/ithappenshere). I’ll also say this. After my run in with a sexual assault-ish situation, I remember thinking: all a part of being a female college freshman. I’m a junior now, and I still think that easy expectation of violence says some pretty horrible things about what we like to call normal.

In terms of not white, cis and/or mainstream, just yes. If one more friend of color tells me about how they doubt their own attractiveness at Middlebury, I think my heart is going to break. Each person who has told me that is one of the most beautiful people I am privileged to know, in both appearance and spirit. I’ve now gone far enough away from Middlebury to understand that there is a very specific type of mainstream, of normal, present and to be outside that normal means you have to constantly measure yourself against it because everybody else certainly is. Physical violence is awful, but it is far from the only way to hurt another person.

Now let’s talk about responsibility. An individual, like the student, has a lot of power at Middlebury. But it is not the responsibility of any student to address a systematic failure to guarantee basic safety. That would be the responsibility of the governing systems of Middlebury. 

It is the responsibility of the individual to be outraged. To be kicking and screaming mad that someone was attacked on our campus and we didn’t do anything to protect her or to protect ourselves. I am. And I hope you are too.

CELESTE ALLEN ’16 is from Scottsdale, Ariz.

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