A Time for Respect
To: Members of the Skidmore Community
From: Philip A. Glotzbach, President
Date: Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Re: A Time for Respect—A Time for Action
The tragic suicide of Tyler Clementi on September 22 has prompted thousands of people to speak out across our country and around the world. Many have expressed outrage at the homophobic biases and thoughtless behavior highlighted by this tragedy. Others have placed the alleged actions of Tyler’s roommate and his friend in the larger context of bullying, which we know has reached disturbing proportions in our primary and secondary schools, and which all too often occurs on college and university campuses. And some have decried the invasion of privacy that apparently led this gifted young student to take his own life. Regrettably, such violations of privacy are becoming more and more frequent in a world where a damaging email or video can “go viral” in a matter of hours.
Homophobia is not an impersonal or distant phenomenon. It touches each of us either directly or through someone we know—and in many cases, someone we love—who is the target of such abuse. Indeed, Tyler Clementi’s death affects the Skidmore family more immediately than some of us may realize. Tyler’s older brother James is a Skidmore graduate, a member of the class of 2009. So this tragedy really is a personal one for all of us at the College. Our hearts go out to James and to his parents for their loss, which is our loss as well.
In a heartfelt letter to our students, Director of Health Promotion Jennifer Burden speaks of her own outrage at the events that prompted Tyler’s suicide and voices her fervent hope that “the sort of cruelty that Tyler experienced” would have no place on our campus. She also wishes “that Tyler could have felt [the kind of] love and support [that is now being expressed] before he made the decision to take his own life.” All of us certainly share these sentiments. But, as Jen reminds us, we also know that homophobic and racist incidents of intolerance do take place on college and university campuses, in general, and even, regrettably, at Skidmore.
So now is the time to do more. Specifically, now is the time to rededicate ourselves both individually and collectively to making our own campus the kind of place where such actions no longer occur. We are a community founded on mutual respect and dedicated to learning. We seek to foster in our students the skills, knowledge, and dispositions required for them to function as responsible citizens of a democracy. And, in this context, we would do well to call to mind Dr. Martin Luther King’s frequent assertion that the denial of basic civil rights to anyone is a threat to the rights of everyone. If we are to be true to these basic values, we must strengthen our resolve to make Skidmore a community in which abuse directed against someone because of that person’s identity becomes unimaginable.
Many within our community have worked, and are continuing to work, to move us to this place. These include the Bias Response Group (which is focusing this year on issues relating to sexual orientation and gender bias), the Office of Student Diversity Programs, the Skidmore Pride Alliance, the Committee on Intercultural and Global Understanding, Health Services, the Counseling Center, the Center for Sex and Gender Relations, and the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life. Of particular note, the Skidmore Pride Alliance is hosting an event at 8 p.m. on Thursday, October 14, in Davis Auditorium, at which a panel of LGBTQ students will talk about their experiences at Skidmore and in the local community. They also will discuss the “It Gets Better” project, a recent attempt to reach out to young LGBTQ individuals, offering them a measure of reassurance and hope in a world that all too often can be violent and threatening. I urge you to attend, if you can, or otherwise to consider how you can demonstrate your commitment to creating a safe community climate for everyone at Skidmore.
The deepest challenge is for each of us to act consistently toward one another in ways that build understanding and respect. Several years ago, a group of first-year Skidmore students initiated a campaign to remind us of these basic principles by calling for all of us to “Give More, Respect More, Skidmore.” Let us all resolve once again to take this exhortation to heart and let it guide our behavior. In fact, any one of us can be called upon at any time to make a personal choice that will make our community better or worse. Commenting on the events that reportedly led to Tyler Clementi’s untimely death, columnist Cynthia Tucker writes,
This story might have ended differently if Wei had stopped her friend and high school classmate Ravi, when he allegedly came to her room to set up the webcast. What if she had protested fiercely? What if she had had the courage to do what most of us find so difficult: to be a lone voice for doing the right thing?
If we make it our responsibility to take notice of those occasions when an ethical decision is called for and, yes, find the moral courage to act accordingly, then each of us can discover within ourselves that “voice for doing the right thing.” It is too late to reach out to Tyler Clementi. But it is not too late for all us, acting together, to prevent any such actions from ever occurring again—especially on the Skidmore campus.
Give More, Respect More, Skidmore.
Let me repeat here the information provided by Jen Burden at the end of her letter. Please know that you also can seek information, support, and resources at the following campus offices:
Health Services—Jonsson Tower, first floor (518-580-5550)
Counseling Center—Jonsson Tower, first floor (518-580-5555)
Student Diversity Programs—Case Center, second floor (518-580-8212)
The Center for Sex and Gender Relations—Case Center, third floor (518-580-8255)
The Office of Religious and Spiritual Life—Case Center, third floor (518-580-8340)