Breaking the silence at Salem College
SINCE STUDENT elections ended at Salem College, a women's college in Winston-Salem, N.C., earlier this month, the campus has exploded with racism and homophobia.
Now, students, with the support of the faculty and administration, have started to take back the idea of sisterhood.
Too often, that idea, to this point, has been a lie. "Sisters," after all, do not write racist and homophobic slurs on each other's campaign posters. They do not type threatening hate notes and slip them under each other's doors. Sisters do not form secret, racist societies that claim to be "watching" to make sure you "take your vote seriously."
To claim these were isolated incidents would be wrong, ignoring the racism and homophobia that dominate much of campus life. It would also be wrong to claim that the administration of the college has not participated actively in this climate of discrimination.
Two first-year students, who had begun dating over the fall semester, were banned from spending the night in each other's rooms except when extended male visitation was allowed--and even then, they were forced to sign paperwork that was not required of male guests.
Even more infuriating, the students were no longer allowed to be in each other's rooms with the door closed. (Male guests do not ever have to follow these restrictions.) The resident coordinator (RC) claimed that the students' relationship violated a roommate's privacy, even though neither woman's roommate had made a complaint.
Two members of the student Judicial Council, which governs residence life affairs, have told the students to violate the RC's discriminatory rules, noting that if the students are considered to be in violation of school policy, the case will come before the council, where a direct confrontation to this case--and all cases--of dormitory discrimination could be made.
Other incidents have included racial profiling by Public Safety officers on campus (students were once told to return to their dorms immediately because a Black man had been seen approaching the campus), and tolerance of racist, homophobic, sexist and classist comments made by students in classroom situations.
Finally, a secret group, calling themselves the Black Widows, began threatening students--directly and by posting fliers that told the campus "to take your vote seriously."
It also raised concerns about another white supremacist secret society on campus, which had charges drawn against them in 2008, may be regrouping to continue to incite fear and hatred.
SO YES, Salem College's climate of sisterhood has too often been a lie--but as anger surrounding the discrimination and hate pervading the elections grew, students banded together to take back our notion of sisterhood.
The first action was a speak-out that took place on March 23 during lunch. Students who make up the Committee on Community--an administration supported group of students and faculty--spoke out, denouncing the discrimination and the secret societies on campus that help continue it. One of the victims of the hate crimes identified herself and spoke about what love and sisterhood meant to her.
The students called upon their fellows to break the silence--to finally have the discussions about hatred and discrimination that have been repressed for too long.
Finally, Dr. Jo Dulan, professor of English and Women's Studies, spoke out and challenged all students to fight back and reclaim their sisterhood.
More open forums have been scheduled to discuss the need for greater diversity, justice and ways to achieve it. Student groups on campus, including the Student Government Association and Salem AntiWar, have issued statements strongly condemning the climate of discrimination and committing to changing it.
Perhaps what is most surprising is the stance of the administration, which has agreed to commit to working with students to solve this issue at any cost--including lowered student recruitment.
However, the secret societies on campus are not backing down. Two of three posted statements on campus today that show they have no intention of engaging with the community.
Students can already see this fight will not be easy, but we have all committed to ending it now. They say that breaking silence is as important as breaking walls. We will do both.
Trish Kahle, Winston-Salem, N.C.