Imagine walking out of your residence hall room, and noticing a racial slur on your whiteboard or in the hallway. Perhaps this has happened to some of you. At the very least, you may even know someone affected. In fact, I am sure many of you have seen at least something unexpected written on yours or someone else’s board throughout your college life. Whiteboards serve as a fun way for you to communicate with your neighbors, but all too often, they are used as tools to receive strange anonymous messages.
Although I am being very lighthearted, I would like to paint the reality that is in most residence halls. One may witness a jumble of little notes, inside jokes, and every once and a while, something out of place on hallway walls. It is common for friends to insult one another in a weird form of affection.
Television programming is full of witty banter and slightly inappropriate trappings. However, when one decides to use language that makes light of what years of progress in racial justice has worked against, a community can respond in only one manner. At Rider, we remind ourselves of our pledge that, “We celebrate our differences for they are our strength.”
In light of the recent “bias incident,” many of the student leaders held a Unity Vigil characterized by the symbolic lighting of candles. They wanted to make known that the community recognized what had happened and will not stand for a display of hatred and discrimination. Although the residents whose doors were marred with the racial terms were those directly affected, the allowance of such an act showed the disregard of our school’s community values.
To effectively combat such an act of ignorance, student leaders and other campus officials decided to educate. Each person who attended the Unity Vigil received a bookmark that contained the Statement of Community Values. They also received a pin that when worn would symbolize the unity of Rider University. Numerous participants recited the eight community value principles in unison. Some said that the vigil reminded them of a religious service. The similarity to this kind of service speaks to the nature of our unity, that we share certain strong beliefs.
Students of all backgrounds flock to our campus for various reasons, but when they get here, they say it feels like home. I do not believe that this sense of unity is easy to come by. And I would dare to say that Rider holds some special charisma in this area. The sheer fact that the students and others cared enough to organize the vigil showed their dedication. Although many students in attendance were not exactly sure what had gone on, they recognized that they had an opportunity to be a part of something that was greater than themselves alone. Students and others flocked into the Cavalla Room to make an emphatic statement that acts of intolerance will not be tolerated.
At Rider, hateful acts do not pass without consequence because we care about the goodwill of our community and our students. We choose rather, to celebrate our differences for they are our strength. It is that which weaves us into a collective body of individuals, each with our own contributions to our university’s mosaic. We are individuals focused on the enrichment of others and ourselves.
The initiative of the student leaders and the University’s programming is a testament to this. A great deal of events are held throughout the school year to promote education about cultural diversity. In fact, the unfortunate truth about the incident is that it occurred immediately following the Unity Day festivities that celebrated our diversity.
Most students are culturally sensitive, patient and curious in the midst of difference. Now more than ever, it is important that we recognize that we have an even more diverse population on campus than in recent years, which gives us a greater opportunity to recognize and celebrate our differences. Each difference celebrated illuminates our minds and spirits as we continue in the midst of the recent dimness.
This is the second column in a series that will take a look at the fulfillment of the Statement of Community Values.