28 January 2007

Roots of peace and justice: a response to events at Guilford

Seeing the sign pictured above was absolutely the highlight of my day. It was a quiet discovery. I was marching along today with some friends in the peace march around the Capitol today, and I saw a man wearing a Guilford College hat. I asked him if he had gone to school there. He replied that no, he hadn't, but his daughter was there now. "They're all up there," he said, and pointed to a group of kids behind a huge white sign. Now of course I wasn't surprised to see Guilford students at a major protest. Indeed, I had been seeking them out all morning, almost in search of some sort of affirmation. I didn't know anyone in the group. Things change quickly, I guess. But I said something stupid, like "welcome to DC," marched in their vicinity for awhile, ran up front to snap the photo, and continued on my way, smiling like a fool the whole time.

Like many alumni, I am gravely concerned about the events that transpired at Guilford College in the early hours of last weekend. Based upon what I have read in the media and on the College website, it is known that at least five students violently assaulted three Palestinian students in Bryan Hall. Clearly these acts are egregious and need to be dealt with in a serious manner. Yet sadly I have been disappointed in some of the student and alumni discourse that has surrounded these events.

Based upon the information I have available, I believe that the Guilford administration has handled the response professionally and in a timely manner. As in any situation like this, some things may not be handled as well as they could be, but on the whole I believe the response has been as it should be. This is a marked improvement from years not so long ago when campus life staff were less responsive, less competent, and considerably more out of touch with the student population.

What concerns me most is some of the discussion I'm seeing about the events. As usual, there has been a rush by some to blame the administration for everything imaginable. Such quick judgment is neither wise nor informed, and should be avoided. Yet more distressing is some undertones of loathing expressed toward student-athletes. Yes, the attackers in this case were football players. Yes, there were many other football players present at the incident. No, this does not mean that all football players, or all athletes, are bad for Guilford, against what it stands for, and only being propped up by a greedy administration.

As one former Guilford football player pointed out in an online discussion board on this issue, members of team sports have different schedules and spend significant amounts of time together, sometimes seven days a week during their season. This problem of scheduling inherently limits intergroup interaction outside the classroom. However, we should point out that the same distinctions are true for other segments of the student body. Theater students spend a significant amount of time with one another, for instance. Speaking from experience, those active in student government tend to spend several days a week in each other's company, often to the detriment of other interactions. Demonizing a particular group of students because they operate within their own comfort zones and chosen social networks seems foolish at best. Justifying such demonization with unfounded rumors regarding financial aid and administrative preferences is even worse. In this same vein, we should remember to critically interrogate the media coverage this event has received. Some reports are clearly inflammatory, and portray both the events and the response in a negative light that demonstrates a lack of understanding of the community and its tradition of open, sometimes painful, discourse around all manner of sorrows and joys.

We still do not know the full details of this hate incident, and likely will not for some time. What we do know is that the Guilford community is in need of healing after this dark event. I have seen it mentioned repeatedly, in many divergent contexts over the past week, that Guilford is a community rooted in ideals of peace and justice. This is true, and it is laudable. Yet what has not been mentioned enough in what I have seen is that these very principles are rooted in love, compassion and understanding. No, things are not perfect at Guilford. Indeed, they never have been. That is why things like the Anti-Racism Initiative exist to deal with some of Guilford's historic injustices in a proactive way. That is why we have a Bias Incidents Response Group. Sadly, we live in a society wherein Muslims and persons of Arab descent are facing vicious rising discrimination from various fronts. Some have said that the Guilford bubble has been broken by last week's events, but I think that such events should remind us that Guilford is not, in fact, a bubble. It exists in an unjust and unpeaceful society that exudes a pantheon of negativity. Guilford cannot be immune from that, but it can live true to its principles by demonstrating that a peaceful and just community can be built and nurtured, in spite of the negativity swirling around it, and sometimes within it. This is Guilford's promise and its challenge, and I am confident that it can live up to the task.

I know that in the coming weeks, Guilford will engage in dialog and discussion in numerous forums and events. Indeed, this process has already begun. The community will gradually heal and reconcile. Justice will be seen, and the truth will be known. But all involved should be engaged in a process of deeper healing, including crossing the lines of these false social dichotomies we construct. If, in this process, Guilford students can come to a sense of common identity and understanding, free from unnecessary stigmatization, then the community can truly be healed, and that will be the greatest step that can be taken towards preventing other acts of this nature in the future.

Over the course of four years, Guilford facilitated a remarkable change in my worldview. In some instances I know that fellow students, faculty and staff had to pry my eyes open, but I am grateful for the perspectives I gained. Learning for trauma is a tremendous chore. Sometimes, especially in early stages, healing and reconciliation feel like obscene concepts. Some have expressed that they feel hopeless, and that the essential Guilford is lost. Yet seeing a sign that reads "Guilford students against all hatred" reminds me that the core of Guilford's community is intact. In spite of whatever publicity out there right now, Guilford is a positive force for the world. Even as I sat to write this tonight, I heard a piece by Guilford's Adam Hurt come on the radio. The strength of Guilford's community and its fierce commitment to peace and justice will ensure its recovery and continued growth.

1 comment:

Liberalgrrrl said...

Right On!
Thanks for posting this. As a Guilco Alum, I really appreciate reflection and insight into this horrible incident.