Liou and He: Intolerance is Real
By Alice Liou And Huan He, Guest Columnist
Published on Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Last Wednesday during lunch, a student we did not recognize approached our table at the Class of 1953 Commons and spoke to us in gibberish, mocking Chinese. As we were reacting with confusion and shock, he approached a second table with two other Asian students and repeated a similar phrase before leaving the dining area. Recovering from our initial reaction, we had two questions on our minds — first, can we justify this to ourselves as an actual wrong? And second, did this really just happen at Dartmouth?
Similar events have happened to both of us outside of Dartmouth, but we passively dismissed them with no harm to our emotional psyche. What makes this event different, and perhaps more offensive, and why do we feel the need to react with more than confusion and shock? In the grand scheme of things that can be labeled as “racial bias incidents,” is this legitimate enough to warrant reporting? Is this incident “not a big deal?”
Why are we even asking ourselves these questions? If the Dartmouth community is as strong and close-knit as we often advertise, then these uncomfortable questions have no place falling on the shoulders of those who have been undeniably mistreated. The community is not united when sons and daughters of Dartmouth do not think twice about mistreating each other, verbally or otherwise, across all lines of difference. Furthermore, when we hide behind a line of questioning that is critical and dense, we convince ourselves that there is a way to close this case as an isolated incident instead of acknowledging that it is part of a larger problem that Dartmouth should own as its reality.
Some might say that we are painting with too broad of a brush, that this incident is not part of a larger trend at Dartmouth. They may criticize that we are projecting the actions of the irresponsible few onto the courteous many. By and large, students do not engage recklessly with each other. But if we do, in fact, pride ourselves on the community we build with one another, incidents like these, isolated or not, have no place here. As a community, we should all hold each other accountable. Offenders should feel accountable to the people they offend. The people who are offended should, without hesitation, hold accountable those who have offended them. Even bystanders should act accountably, for if we care about Dartmouth, we should also care about each of its constitutive parts. If we are the Dartmouth community, we should not let any one of us violate the sacred common space that allows us to live, learn and grow together.
The easier reaction is to “other” this problem, to detach oneself or evaluate it objectively. It is more comfortable to break down a negative experience that one member of the Dartmouth community has and attribute to it a list of perfectly logical explanations, excuses and criticisms, or worse, to not engage at all. In doing so, however, we no longer are community members who stand side by side but become the interrogator versus the interrogated, or the apathetic. Through this power dynamic, we risk losing the notion of community altogether and become disjointed, unequal parts that do not comprise a united whole.
After much reflection, we decided to file a bias incident report so that our experience would enter an administrative log that documents all incidences of mistreatment, harassment and violence. We hope that our experience becomes tangible evidence of the intolerance one can encounter at Dartmouth. We also want to hold accountable the student who demonstrated a blatant disregard for our community’s values, as we know that he can strive for better. After the incident, many administrators asked if we were okay. We do feel personally okay. What we are not okay with is the idea that this could happen to our fellow community members. We are not okay with the instinctual and skeptical criticism that defines how we process situations of bigotry. We are not okay with complacently aligning what happens at Dartmouth to what happens in the “real world.” We should hold this special place, our home, to a higher ideal and believe it can be free of intolerance, as it is this optimism that precedes any institutional or cultural process of change.