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Winter 2000

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College unites against uncivil acts

Skidmore has always been known for its open-mindedness, for being, as a student recently put it, "a place where you can be accepted for who and what you are." So when last fall the campus grappled with two possibly homophobic incidents, the overwhelming reaction was, "Not at Skidmore!"

First came the theft of a gay-pride flag from outside one of Scribner Village’s half-dozen student theme houses; the flag had marked the house as a safe place for people struggling with their sexual identity. Two weeks later, a pickup truck belonging to Brandi Collesides ’01, one of the house’s residents, was defaced with human excrement and decked with toilet paper. With no suspects or motive yet discovered, the incidents might have been "just a practical joke," admits Collesides.

But campus reaction was swift. The incidents were "unacceptable regardless of motivation," wrote Skidmore administrators in both a campuswide e-mail message and a Skidmore News letter signed by President Jamienne S. Studley along with the College’s chaplains, the director of diversity and affirmative action, and the director of residential life. A campus forum nearly filled Gannett Auditorium, where Studley deplored the incidents but applauded the campus’s rallying against them. Another speaker was Student Government Association President Sarah Strauss ’00, who read an SGA resolution condemning the actions and added fiercely, "I feel so much anger at the people who did this. I hope they hear on all sides how unacceptable their actions are."

Addressing the forum’s highly supportive audience was like preaching to the choir, acknowledged Patricia Trosclair, coordinator of multicultural student affairs, "but I always say the choir needs to practice." And Dean of Student Affairs Thomas "Pat" Oles added that effective social change can come "through gatherings like this, when a social climate is created that will eventually touch those who need it." Among students speaking from the audience was Eric Patridge ’01, who suggested a "community chain" of paper slips that members of the campus community could sign and link together in a public place to visibly express their support of tolerance. Linda Jackson-Chalmers ’73, a Skidmore trustee visiting campus for a board meeting, told the group, "If any community can overcome this, it’s Skidmore."

"Skidmore is a more tolerant place than most," says College Chaplain Kathleen Buckley, who with the Catholic and Jewish chaplains issued a strongly worded statement condemning the incidents. "But building an inclusive community is not a simple or quick task." The effort to bolster that sense of community at Skidmore continued throughout the semester, with letters to the News, signatures gathered on a huge antibigotry poster, a series of open discussions on tolerance and diversity that will continue into this semester, and, in Case Center one November day, a paper chain that stretched to more than 900 links. –BAM

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