Since the beginning of the 2007 academic year, a seemingly inexplicable wave of racism and hatred has swept institutions across the country. And as the GW community harshly learned last week, not only can an instance of intolerance happen anywhere, the repercussions can be far larger than anyone imagined or intended.
From Jena, La., to the University of Maryland, from Columbia University to our own Foggy Bottom campus, these instances seem reminiscent of times past, not part of our contemporary society. Yet even from the most unfortunate of events can bring forth opportunities to learn and build routes of communication and understanding.
Immediately following the events of last Monday, student organizations and campus leadership took it upon themselves to organize forums for discussion. It is commendable that students seized the reigns to turn this instance of failed satire into a productive discourse. Persons from various backgrounds and areas of involvement were ready to tackle racism and hatred in whichever form it chose to manifest itself, whether it is an attack on political or religious views.
It is encouraging that students have begun a movement of understanding from the ground level up. No administration can force a desire for tolerance on its student population, but it is optimistic for any college community to see such an active, fruitful reaction take place. At neighboring University of Maryland, student groups reacted in solidarity and called for a week of diversity. After a noose was found hanging at Columbia University, students organized themselves to come together in pursuit of a solution. It seems encouraging that students are taking these issues to heart and are ready to work to defend the values that ultimately define their community at large.
But for discourse on a college campus between opposing viewpoints to be effective, it must be conducted on a more personal level that students can relate to, rather than on a national scale. If student organizations were to just sit down and put all of their issues out on the table, odds are that the end product would be much more fulfilling than watching the leaders of these organizations screaming at each other on national television. While it is natural that the national leaders of the Young America’s Foundation would have something to say about the issue, the GW chapter of YAF should be careful in associating itself with some of the hateful rhetoric that is being directed towards the administration and GW as a whole.
In a college setting, many come to identify themselves with the student groups to which they devote their time and energy. The leaders and involved members of these groups are vital in developing communication at the student level, in this case one of tolerance. The Student Association and other general organizations play a large part in many of the happenings on campus, but there should be no limit to what type of student and student organization can effectively communicate and organize messages of tolerance.
As the initial shock of the poster incident wears off and the national spotlight fades, it is vital that the issues at the heart of the controversy of the past week not be forgotten. During a time of high media attention and even higher tensions, it is easy for anyone and everyone to proclaim themselves tolerant. The true test is yet to come – one that hopefully the GW student community will be able to pass.