Recent 'hate speech' incidents addressed at public forum

By Daniel Kerwin

On Tuesday, Nov. 2, Dean of Students Jim Hoppe received a report of an incident of “hate speech” painted on the wall of the grate area beside Doty Hall. After a string of similar incidents earlier this semester, Hoppe wasn’t prepared to simply go through the usual routine in dealing with the incident. “When I got the report I didn’t want to just send out another e-mail, I felt it was time to do more,” Hoppe said.

The response that Hoppe and a group of others decided upon was to organize a campus wide open forum to discuss issues surrounding incidents of hate speech on campus. The forum took place on Wednesday night in the Weyerhauser Memorial chapel, drawing a crowd of approximately 150 students, faculty and staff, including top members of the administration. President Brian Rosenberg gave the opening remarks.

“My first reaction is always to think that this is Macalester and things like this aren’t supposed to happen here,” Rosenberg said. “We are not a world unto ourselves. The things that happen around the world sooner or later are bound to happen here. Assault and oppression through language is extraordinarily powerful, and extremely important to confront and oppose.”

There were three main incidents of hate speech that were mentioned during the forum. There was much debate at the forum as to how much of the precise details about the incidents should be repeated; the full extent of the incidents was revealed at the forum, but will not be repeated in full detail in this article.

The first two occurred inside of the sophomore dorms, both on paper posted to room doors and written on dry erase boards. The first incident was the phrase that was both homophobic and anti-Semetic, the second was an image of a swastika. The incident by the grate was the phrase that included a slur aimed towards African Americans and also homophobic elements. The phrase on the wall of the grate was painted over soon after it was discovered.

There were also a number of other similar incidents that were mentioning, including penises drawn on white boards and recent chalkings pertaining to the Soviet Union near the Campus Center.

Around 30 different students stepped up to the microphone during the forum to voice their opinions and concerns surrounding the issue. The bulk of the conversation related to finding ways to extend the conversation out into the Macalester community in general, trying to address ways in which individuals could limit incidents of hateful and hurtful among their peers.

Rosenberg admitted that no matter how much discussion is had, the recurrence of incidents like this is “inevitable,” and the main question is not whether the college can eliminate such incidents, but how well the community reacts to them.

“If you believe you are a perfect community, any incident becomes a failure,” Rosenberg said. “The measure of a community is not so much that it’s perfect, the measure of a community is how it reacts to its failures.”

Dean if Multicultural Life Tommy Woon ended the discussion by pointing out the seriousness of hate speech incidents on campus.

“Linguistic violence leads to emotional violence, which creates physical violence,” Woon said.

Hoppe said that one of the goals of the forum was to “increase the level of awareness and community cohesiveness for responding to these situations.” He said that although the event went well, he would ideally have liked to see two or three times the number of people in attendance, though said he hoped that the forum was a good start.

“I’m proud of the people who talked and shared their feelings, I think that has a huge impact,” Hoppe said.

A further response to the situation has been the organization of a photo project by Assistant Director of the Lealtad Suzuki Center Alina Wong and members of MCSG and the External Relations Commission. The photos will show members of the Macalester community holding signs with phrases such as “This is my/our Macalester,” “Got Community?” and “I am/We are Macalester.”

“Our intention is to reclaim the campus and to encourage ownership and responsibiliy for and to the Macalester community,” Wong said. “By working together collaboratively and collectively, and by speaking out in positive ways, we hope people will consider the impact of hate speech, harassment, and violence on us as individuals and as a community.