In the last month on Grounds, there have been two attacks thought to have been motivated by the race or the perceived sexual orientation of the victim. Neither of these attacks resulted in serious physical harm. For a moment, the lack of serious injury seemed significant to me. “The University community is one of love, diversity, and respect,” I thought to myself, “and while there will always be minor and isolated incidents of intolerance, we can sleep soundly knowing that we are ultimately good. These cuts and bruises will quickly heal.” Yet immediately, that reaction felt inadequate.
Woodrow Wilson, Range resident and 28th President of the United States, was quoted as saying, “the man who is swimming against the stream knows the strength of it.” I am a heterosexual, white male from an upper-middle class family. My parents are not immigrants, nor were their parents. We only spoke one language at home. I am in-state, where I attended relatively affluent public schools my whole life. Within the context of the University, within the context of the country as a whole, I am in no way a minority or outlier. I do not know what it feels like to have never been in a classroom taught by a teacher of my own race, or what it feels like to wonder if I will ever be allowed to marry the person I want to spend the rest of my life with. I do not know what it feels like to worry if I will be allowed to move my exam because of my religious holiday, or what it feels like to not be able to pay my tuition. I do not know what it is like to worry about my safety walking home alone. I have been blessed. But I certainly do not know what it is like to swim against the stream.
The only foreseeable way I would get beaten up is in a mugging or robbery. In such a scenario, I am a victim only of chance and circumstance, and those are the types of cuts and bruises that heal. To be the victim of a hate crime is an entirely different situation. This is a crime in which someone has singled you out because of an aspect of your identity, because of who you are. The scars left from those encounters, no matter how physically minor, can be devastating. The psychological impact on a victim of a hate crime can present itself in a way not dissimilar to the manifestation in victims of sexual assault: questions of identity, questions of self-worth, questions of blame. Even if the immediate victim manages to rise above these effects, hate crimes create a sense of fear and unwelcomeness across victimized communities.
In reality, “minor” altercations are nothing of the sort. As a University, we should be up in arms about every occurrence of hate on Grounds as if it were of the utmost significance. Our reaction as a community is what keeps such intolerance at bay. We will never eradicate bigotry, but what is vital is that we never stop trying, as combatting intolerance demonstrates the immense strength of character and sincerity in values that our University represents. It shows the world that we will stand up to protect every single member of our community, no matter how he or she identifies.
We have great opportunity here at the University, but it does not come without responsibility. In our pledge to uphold the Community of Trust, we pledge to do more than simply abstain from lying, cheating and stealing. Trust means more than that. Implicit in our pledge is the promise to create a community where others can trust that they will always be loved and respected. We pledge to create a community where others can trust that they will always be safe, and finally, we pledge that we will not tolerate any action that violates this trust.
I leave you with yet another quote, this time from civil rights activist, Senator, and Law School alumnus Robert Kennedy: “Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total; of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.”
Eric McDaniel is a third-year Representative in the College of Arts & Sciences, and the Director of University Relations. The opinions stated are his own, and do not necessarily represent those of the whole UVa Student Council .