Throughout my life, I’ve suffered from sporadic panic attacks, ignited by my fear of the stillness, of the finality, of death.
Yesterday, while in my morning class, I nearly had one, brought on by a discussion with my students about the latest hate crimes (the university is calling them “biased incidents”) that have transpired on campus over the past week.
The other day, the entire Montclair State University community was notified of a string of hate crimes throughout campus (which followed on the heels of an earlier anti-gay hate crime on campus this past fall); a missive from President Susan A. Cole outlined these “incidents”:
"On January 26th, the words, 'Die Fags,' were written in marker on the wall adjacent to room 104K in the Student Center CSI complex. On January 27th, a written note with the words, 'you will die soon Faggots,' was reported to have been left under the door of room 104K. And, on January 30th, the words, 'Fags will die on 2/7,' was written on the wall of the first floor women’s restroom near the Rathskellar."
Shocked by the details of the email—why oh why would anyone reveal the date of the foretold massacre? Having lived through the G.W. Bush years, don't we all know that doing so primarily functions to incite panic and fear?—I arrived into class yesterday morning wondering how to broach the situation with my students.
Do I out myself to my students? How to juxtapose our intended discussion of love poetry (e.e. cummings, le sigh, was on tap) with a discussion of hate?
“So,” I said, as I placed my shoulder-bag on top of the desk and took out my book, “what’s going on?”
“What’s going on—on campus?,” I intoned.
One of my upperclassmen spoke up first, and then all twenty students were chiming in, voicing both their disgust about the hate crimes as well as their support for the LGBT community.
Their responses, to be honest, didn’t surprise me. The university’s student body, perhaps reflective of the fact that the university itself is situated in a little liberal enclave within the NYC metro area, is notably progressive when it comes to social issues.
What did surprise me, however, was hearing how the university has responded to the string of "incidents." First, President Cole, according to the university’s paper, The Montclarion, only notified the university’s community of the incidents after “a message of outrage from S.P.E.C.T.R.U.M.S. [the resident LGBTQ student support group] president reached her.” As the group’s student project representative told the newspaper, “[t]hreatening and bigoted messages defiled the door of our campus’s LGBT Center, messages that went beyond ‘We hate you’ to the point where they stated that the gay community was going to be killed. The university chose not to alert their student body that there was any danger. We were expected to continue living as though there was no threat upon our very lives.”