When silence can’t be forgiven

 

By Daniel Rothberg

An openly gay boy receives an anonymous death threat at an elite private school in Los Angeles. The school is notified and suddenly the police are involved. The investigators look at handwriting samples and video surveillance tapes. Still, two weeks later, there are no answers. The note remains a mystery.

This string of events occurred on our campus. However, they could have just as easily made up the storyline for a “Lifetime” special and perhaps that is what frightened us so. It is a rare occasion for intolerance on campus to manifest itself in a dramatic and overt act. Gangs of students do not roam the halls of Chalmers looking to harass gay students and fistfights do not break out in the quad because of the color of one’s skin.

Instead, bigotry on campus is usually displayed in a subtler and seemingly less harmful manner. Students whisper and stare when two gay boys or girls walk through the quad together. Inscribed into the wooden desks are racial slurs and homophobic epithets. Students sit together in groups and tease each other with discriminatory labels without any regard for how offensive that may be to others.

Unlike the note, this type of intolerance is prevalent. Too often we see and quickly forget instances of this type of intolerance. Many of us have abandoned our sensitivities and turned a blind eye towards this type of prejudiced behavior. It is easier to pretend that we live without intolerance than to confront it.

While it may be easy to blame the note on a lone perpetrator or a group of perpetrators as the case may be, we are all culpable.

Every time we heard a discri- minatory remark or chose to ignore prejudiced behavior rather than report it, we allowed this to happen. By standing by, we silently rendered these actions acceptable.

Just because intolerance on campus might not be as blatant, doesn’t mean it is any less damaging.

We are given the freedom of being able to have and express our own opinions. However, that liberty has its limits. I don’t advocate that students should be punished for what they think; yet, punitive action must be taken when one’s opinion manifests itself in a way that degrades the personal integrity of another. There should be a consequence for even small acts of intolerance.

Almost every day, we raise the bar higher in academics as well as in our extracurricular endeavors.

So, why not raise our standard of what is appropriate and respectful conduct? At the very least, we should try to become more conscious of how actions affect others and by doing so, move beyond the indecent epithets and etchings. We have a responsibility as students and moreover, as members of a community, to strive towards adhering to a common code of decency.

In front of our peers, we were required to sign the Honor Code and in agreeing to the contract, we promised to “not violate the person of others or the person of the school.” We are all bound to that agreement; now we all must strive to abide by it.

 

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