Let’s talk, for a moment, about the Wall of Hate.
It may not look like much, but it was enough to grab my attention as I walked home from the Fairchild-Martindale Library at Lehigh University. Various students were standing in front of it with markers, scribbling words that I could not as of yet discern, and several more were present to hand out pamphlets and talk to curious passersby. I asked one such student, Aleksandra Popova, and she agreed to email me more details about the movement (which she co-founded with Brishty Khossein, Arnie Diamond, and Sydney Bagley). Her response deserves to be republished in full:
We hope that our event fosters conversations among Lehigh students on the topics of diversity and inclusion, highlighting the impact that individual words and actions have on our campus culture. Going forward we hope our event helps acclimate Lehigh students to having difficult conversations on sensitive topics.
Global Citizenship is a four-year interdisciplinary certificate program that emphasizes the various dimensions of a student’s educational development. The program incorporates academic courses, travel experiences and extracurricular activities to encourage global-mindedness in multiple areas of a student’s life. As a senior in the Global Citizenship Program you are required to conduct a Capstone project that reflects on their personal concept of global citizenship as it relates to a specific topic in their individual disciplines.
As a Global Citizenship Capstone group we want our project to be an outlet for students to vocalize their concerns about the campus climate. We believe that open dialogue and facilitated conversation about controversial topics will be an effective method of addressing and reflecting on community concerns, and we want to instill confidence within students that change can come from within the community. We would like to see community members feel comfortable opening up about their experiences at Lehigh in a public forum, and mobilize students to take action in instilling changes that they’d like to see in the community rather than remaining passive. Ultimately, a few days of open dialogue cannot create sustainable change – the conversations must continue into the future.
It’s become popular these days to ridicule the concept of “microaggressions,” but the Wall of Hate amply demonstrates why this term is still relevant. Even though individuals who say things like “Tell all of your people they should vote” and “You’re pretty for a black girl” and “That’s so gay” (all of which I found on the wall) may not view their words as particularly hateful, they carry enough weight that those who hear them can feel belittled and marginalized long after they were first uttered. While I’d agree that it’s dangerous for the PC left to shame unintentional transgressors (and everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt regarding their intent, at least until it can be demonstrably proved otherwise), the Wall of Hate isn’t about humiliating those who harbor prejudice. The goal here (at least from my vantage point) is to draw attention to comments that, though perhaps made innocuously, really aren’t so harmless. That’s why students throughout the campus could be found congregating around the Wall of Hate, writing about their own experiences with prejudice so that others could learn from them.
As I walked away from the Wall of Hate, I found myself oddly inspired by what I had seen. At a time when prejudices continue to divide the nation and could even produce our next president (looking at you, Donald Trump), it’s encouraging to see so many young people taking a stand against these hatreds. Even better, they have found a way to speak out that is creative and provocative, encouraging others to participate and share their stories. This is what campus protest should look like – and I, for one, would love to see more of it.