Dan Grover: Students should speak up to prevent hate crimes

Early last month, a student was assaulted as he walked past The 925 Apartments. The student’s assailants reportedly said, “You guys are faggots and queers,” as they punched the student until he fell to the ground. Once he rose, they repeated the action until he collapsed a second time, after which they fled.

The Metropolitan Police Department suspects this was a hate crime. I have no suspicions: Because of the slurs used, I know it was a hate crime.

I’m not surprised that this unfortunate incident occurred. As a gay man, I’m all too aware of threats that homophobic people pose to LGBT individuals. I’m far more concerned that it happened in Foggy Bottom – not only in the neighborhood, but practically on campus. We cannot allow this to happen again. Combating injustice requires proactive intervention, and as students, we have a duty to speak up when confronted with intolerance, and must also confront our own prejudices.

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Dan Grover

Two of the assailants are members of different fraternities at GW, and at least one student has been referred to the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities, according to the police report. This was not a hate crime perpetrated by shady characters from around D.C. – this was a GW-related hate crime.

GW students love to talk about acceptance and diversity. We’re the most politically active campus in the nation. So how could something like this happen here?

At least on the surface, things run smoothly on our campus, and everyone is included and feels warm and fuzzy. We may be masters of calling out social injustices when they crop up, but it seems as if some of the bigger things are slipping through the cracks.

Last year, the Student Association proposed making a diversity and inclusion training mandatory for all student organizations. This is the sort of big, sweeping move that is useful for combating endemic hatred. But it’s foolish to assume that the University and the SA can solve all student problems with legislation. Eventually, students are responsible for their own actions – and those of their peers.

We hear a lot about microaggressions, or the little things that people do and say to make you feel marginalized or attacked. Some GW students even started their own microaggressions Tumblr, aimed at making note of these interactions when they happen on campus. We’re good at pointing out the little things – but that just isn’t enough.

Ultimately, we are responsible for the environment we create. While it might be easy for the exceptionally socially conscious to point out the wrongs they notice on the Internet, the vast majority of students simply won’t. It is to these students that I implore: If you see something, say something.

When someone says something that is just wrong, offensive or downright frightening – for example, “Let’s beat the shit out of those faggots” – don’t let them get away with it. I’m not saying you should catch their fists, but even a quiet, “Are you sure about that?” or alerting a nearby University Police Department officer can do wonders. Silence is acceptance, and it requires a voice of action to make any lasting change.

I have friends who live on 25th Street, and I walk down it late at night with some frequency. After this incident, I’m definitely a little scared walking there now. But you can be absolutely certain that if I see a repeat of this terrible crime, I’ll do my best to intervene. I will shout. I will scream. I will call the police and bring as much attention to the crime as I can.

I understand that this attack was an isolated incident. While it’s jarring and frightening enough on its own, even worse is the eerie quiet that has surrounded it. This should be the kind of thing we should actively fight and to distance ourselves from as loudly and quickly as possible.

Students, I’m asking for your help. Remove hateful slurs from your language, and work with others to do the same. Curb your anger, expand your views, get to know each other – it’s impossible to hate a group if you can empathize with them.

I’m not so naive as to think that everyone will hold hands and sing kumbaya, or even to advocate it. What I’m merely asking is for us to think about the kind of place we want to inhabit, and of the things we say, the people with whom we associate and the things we do contribute to that mission.

To allow similar crimes to occur is unacceptable. Nor can we assume that something like this will never happen again, or that it will just go away. We must be proactive in allowing for tolerance. We must speak up, GW.

To do otherwise is not an option.

Dan Grover, a senior majoring in English, is a Hatchet columnist. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

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