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Friday, Jan 28, 2022

Hate speech shouldn’t be on the list of first-semester anxieties

Many of us recall the turbulence and excitement of our first few weeks at Middlebury: struggling to memorize hundreds of new faces and navigate the campus and doing our best to settle in despite the seemingly perpetual chaos. Those transitions, as we know, already seem like more than enough to withstand. Yet when a new first-year Feb returned to their room in Forest Hall last week, the whiteboard on their door had been vandalized to display a homophobic slur. 

Their first moments in a new home were tarnished by an anonymous and repugnant act, one that took five seconds to commit but may very well take interminably long to forget. As much as we’d like to steadfastly affirm that this isn’t who we are and that this event doesn’t represent Middlebury as a community or an institution, we know by now that hateful incidents are not anomalies here. During the fall semester, two students were called the n-word by a white peer while walking near Ross. Last week, transphobic comments were made in a Student Activity Fair meeting. 

It’s time to call Middlebury what it actually is: a campus that prides itself on inclusivity and compassion while concealing a dark underbelly of entitlement, cowardice and hate. This is not a utopia, and we are not immune to these cruelties. Middlebury will always be a microcosm of a world beyond it — a world that frequently aims to berate individuals for the sole act of being who they are. 

There is no plausible way to know who defaced the whiteboard of a new student who had been on campus less than two weeks. As an editorial board, we condemn the disgusting and callous act committed by an individual we can only describe as a reprehensible coward. Though we acknowledge the improbability of being able to hold this person accountable, it is imperative that we do not walk away from this and continue on as usual. 

We as a student body have to own this and recognize how this event and others are embedded in the fabric of this institution we have all woven ourselves into. Moving forward, we cannot sit idly by while friends, roommates, and classmates suffer at the hands of their own peers. This is a failure at the community level — but this doesn’t have to be our reality. 

Be vigilant. Challenge yourself and those around you to interrogate implicit biases and bystander behaviors. Listen actively and attentively to your LGBTQ+ friends, but don’t speak for them. Call out discriminatory comments and actions when you see them and not after the fact. And welcome new students the way we all want to be welcomed: warmly and without hesitation. It’s the human decency all of us deserve. 

Resources for LGTBQ+ students: 

This editorial represents the opinions of the Middlebury Campus’s editorial board