To the student body of Elon University,
By now, you are likely aware of an incident last weekend in which a swastika, the letter “KKK,” and a sexually explicit image were drawn on the whiteboard outside two students’ room in a dorm on campus. The residents of that room identify as African-American and Jewish. Perhaps, like us, you were horrified but did not feel that there was anything you could do about it. We write this letter as three of your fellow students who want to go beyond feeling angry, sad, or disappointed and to ignite a greater student response.
At a university that “strives to create a campus climate which understands the value of difference, honors the dignity and humanity of each community member, and engages our differences respectfully,” these recurring incidents show that we, as a student body, aren’t holding up our end of the bargain. Even if our own words or actions are not discriminatory, we fail one another when we stand by and watch without speaking up. If we want every student to feel that they belong here, that they are part of the Elon family, we’ve got to have each other’s backs. This means showing our support and our outrage when someone in our community is discriminated against and it also means having the courage to call our own friends and classmates out when hurtful things are said.
Maybe we think that these incidents are blown out of proportion or maybe we are all a little desensitized from all the conversations about inclusion and diversity. Perhaps we think these incidents are not products of malicious intentions or that “it was just a joke.” In the end, intentions are irrelevant when people feel threatened, unwelcome, or devalued. A word that isn’t offensive or hurtful to me may be hurtful to the person next to me in class, to my roommate, or to a stranger in the dining hall. We’re not asking for everyone to think alike, to agree, or to even all be friends, but to recognize that how we express our differences and disagreements matters. What we are calling for is civility so that we can create the environment we want to live in instead of waiting for faculty, staff, or certain individuals to create it for us.
As students we have the power to create our own experiences and ample opportunities to engage with one another. It is our responsibility to make sure that is done with respect to every individual involved, and that includes not staying silent when acts of violence, hatred, or discrimination occur. Desmond Tutu once said “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” If we are bystanders to discrimination, we are part of the problem. This is a student issue that will only be solved by students, and we believe the first step is simply to start speaking up for one another.
Therefore, on behalf of every Elon student who is pissed off, let down, riled up, or beaten down, we want to make those feelings known and show our solidarity with every individual who has been made to feel unwelcome here. That we are sorry for our own complicity and we want to be better. If you’re with us, let us hear it. On Tuesday, September 24th at College Coffee, students are asked to wear a shirt or any other visual representation of their identity. “We are Elon” bracelets will be distributed at that time and we want everyone to know what the intentions of these bracelets are. We imagine these bracelets as a visual reminder of the part that we all play in creating and maintaining an inclusive community. Wearing this bracelet indicates that you will speak out against offensive language or actions whenever you encounter them. With that in mind, let’s start celebrating our differences, start disagreeing, and start putting our feelings into actions. Love our school enough to change it.
Your classmate, your roommate, and your friend
The writers of this post have requested to remain anonymous.