Apathy Not Equivalent to Tolerance
Published: Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Updated: Friday, April 15, 2011 17:04
I am writing this in response to Joe Tarzi's article "Activism Makes Everything an Issue." In the opening paragraph, Tarzi wrote, "I have been informed that this campus is chauvinistic, not a haven for minorities, not a queer friendly campus ." The reason he has been informed of these issues is because all of them are true. Since starting here this semester, nearly every weekend I have heard from girls who suspected they were roofied. Over parents' weekend, gay-friendly chalkings were defaced to reflect intolerant and hurtful messages. The writing of the N-word on Shantell Scott's dry-erase board clearly illustrates that this campus is not a "haven." One of Tarzi's main arguments was that these issues are not a big deal (or worthy of protest) because in the "real world" people are killed or beaten based on race or sexuality. Essentially, we should just ignore the hate-speech and bigoted actions that occur on a daily basis because elsewhere people are worse off. To be sure, there are more intolerant campuses and institutions than Trinity College. I consider myself fortunate to be a student here. For every occasion of ignorance and intolerance I encounter I can think of several more of acceptance and intelligence. Still, this doesn't mean we can write off recent events as flukes or unworthy of our attention. We shouldn't settle for being part of an institution that is tolerant some of the time. We shouldn't settle for being part of an institution where, though no black students have been lynched, they are called niggers. Protests like the one that occurred in Mather last Thursday are not going to solve the whole problem, but doing nothing certainly won't. In fact, ignoring the problem never solves it; it often makes it worse.
Tarzi calls the protest that occurred in Mather last Thursday a rude "over-reaction" to the actions of "a drunken schmuck." There is no evidence that the person who wrote the N-word on Scott's dry-erase board was drunk. Tarzi further asked, "who could be afraid of a pink-shirt-wearing Trinity preppie anyway?" Tarzi is making a lot of assumptions about the identity of the N-word perpetrator. We don't know who did it; it could be anyone. In my opinion, this is pretty frightening. I don't think this means I should start the transfer process to Wesleyan (I didn't bother applying the first time around). I also won't be checking into the Institute of Living anytime soon. I don't think being frightened over not knowing which of the people I am living with think intolerant behavior is acceptable makes me crazy.
As someone who participated in the protest last Thursday, I was very conscious of the way observers would perceive us. I know I personally made an effort, as did other participants, to be respectful and polite to diners. The protest did not prohibit anyone from eating their dinner or from coming to or leaving Mather. It was simply an attempt to facilitate campus-wide discussion. Any speeches made were geared toward raising awareness of the issue. This affects everyone on campus and awareness is crucial.
Tarzi stated, "I really don't care who you are . I just don't care. It's the epitome of tolerance." What Tarzi has described is apathy, not tolerance. It is apathy that makes it possible for others to get away with bigotry and racism. As I previously stated, actions of intolerance occur every day. The incidents of last week were just the match to a powder keg. By continually ignoring intolerance, we are creating a climate in which someone thinks it is acceptable to commit such hurtful and disrespectful actions. As a campus, we need to collectively denounce speech and actions that cause others to feel threatened. To do this we need to be vocal. We cannot solve this undeniable problem by Tarzi's definition of tolerance -- passive apathy.