After almost four years at Washington and Lee, I can’t help but think I’ve been duped.
I remember coming to visit my senior year of high school and thinking that everyone was genuinely kind and that the “community of trust” would include me as much as any other student. I thought that, even though I am gay, I would feel as welcome as I did the first couple days I was here. Now, looking back on my time here and events this semester, I am amazed I was so easy to fool.
I’m not writing this to complain about my own experience at this school. I’ve come to terms with the reality of my college experience – the good and the bad. Rather, I write to make sure that everybody knows the reasons LGBTQ+ students on campus can be made to feel like outcasts to whom most people will be polite, but with the threat of verbal and even physical violence always beneath the surface.
In the 11 weeks we have been on campus this fall, four queer students have been told to leave parties or had homophobic slurs used against them. The students, who came to this school under the assumption that they could trust their classmates, were told they could do whatever they wanted – but not there. They were told they were making people “uncomfortable” just by being at the party. They were called the f-word. Worst of all, however, was that the rest of the students who witnessed these events stood by and did nothing.
These students, while trying to participate in one of the main institutions of W&L social life, faced homophobia from the very people they were supposed to trust. Now they, and other LGBTQ+ students, know that if they confront discrimination, chances are better than not that nobody will help them.
What would happen if someone was physically threatened? Would their fellow students stand by and do nothing, as they already have? To be quite frank, I have lost faith that people will stand by members of the queer community when we need it most.
Forget about a community of trust. I don’t think we even have a community fundamentally safe for all of its members.
In the aftermath of these events, it is frustrating to see how little has been done. There have been Title IX investigations, multiple meetings with the administration and discussions amongst students but ultimately none of the change that queer students need to feel safe and welcome. When it comes to creating a safe environment at parties for all students, fraternities are near-impossible to hold accountable through the university’s own mechanisms. Administrators say they understand the gravity of the problem but with their actions seem to imply that queer students carry the bulk of the responsibility in fixing it.
While I think that expecting minority students to fix all of the problems they face is both misguided and harmful, this is my attempt to at least do something. It’s my hope that students seem so apathetic to the plight of the LGBTQ+ community not because they truly don’t care but because they just don’t know. What I ask of you, if you are reading this, is really not so much. Tell your friends about what is going on. If you witness discrimination or violence (verbal or physical) against anyone, intervene. It’s the least we owe each other. This school needs so much systematic change to ensure that all students are safe, but if we are going to keep telling incoming students that they are choosing a “community of trust,” everyone must live up to that.