I am writing this letter to the campus community in response to something that I recently saw on campus.
Within a short span of fifteen minutes, the time it took me to walk from my car to the Jay’s Nest and from the Jay’s Nest to my office, I saw two incidents that I found very disturbing. In each case, I saw a student from a minority community (one East Asian, one South Asian) walking through the campus and being given a very blatantly angry and hostile stare by another student.
Now of course we cannot and should not pass any rules against facial expressions. Perhaps I was misreading the two staring students I saw, though I felt that their expressions were pretty clear. Maybe they were each having a bad day. Maybe they were suffering from a migraine headache. Or indigestion. Or constipation. Or all of the above.
Assuming, though, that their looks reflected what they appeared to reflect, I believe what I was seeing was hatred of another person, not for anything that they were doing, but simply for being who they are.
Again, though we cannot and should not legislate facial expressions, I think we would all benefit by being more mindful of how our thoughts and feelings manifest in our actions and in our words. What kind of community do we want to inhabit? Do we want to live in a friendly and welcoming place, where everyone feels safe to be themselves? Are we a learning community where we are curious to know about people who are different from ourselves? Or do we want to shelter ourselves in our bigoted little shells, interacting only with those who are like us in every respect? We should all answer these questions honestly.
My wife and I have been part of this community for twelve years. Overwhelmingly, we have found the students, staff and faculty to be warm and welcoming. My wife is not originally from this country, and we both practice a religion that is practiced by a small minority in this country. Yet Elizabethtown has welcomed us with open arms.
However, we too have experienced our share of glares and muttered comments by those who think we cannot hear them, or do not care if we hear them or not. (I happen to be blessed, or cursed, with very good hearing). When this happens, we do not feel welcomed at all and we wonder what kind of place we have made our home.
Of course, one could always ask, “If you don’t like it, why don’t you leave? Why don’t you and your wife go and teach somewhere else?”Believe me, these are questions that I ask myself every time I see something like what I saw the other day.