by Jason Pratley
from The Echo
In the last two months there have been five or more examples of bigotry against homosexual students living in Fairfield, Litchfield and Pinney residence halls at Danbury’s Western Connecticut State University.
They ranged from derogatory remarks such as “Die Dyke” to outright threats targeting specific individuals with words like “FAGGOT” and the numbers “666” posted on doors and written on white boards. Despite media coverage, many students were still not aware of what has happened in the past week, nor the gravity of the situation.
“I think that this sort of thing should be ignored, like a bully who is picking on you,” Giuseppe Pascarella, Litchfield hall resident, said.
Another student at Litchfield said “this is not something that should be happening, it’s not nice but it isn’t illegal, it’s just immature. We need to teach people to be considerate rather than making the words themselves bad.”
One student said, “People write stuff that they don’t really mean, but some people just can’t take a joke”.
Where is the line drawn between a harmless prank and a hate crime? Words like “fag” are often casually thrown around, yet when such words are directed at certain people, they can take on a serious message of intolerance.
At a Gay-Sraight Alliance (GSA) meeting last Thursday, members received letters of reassurance from 7th graders at a local elementary school.
WestConn student William Love said “It blows my mind that 7th graders can have more compassion than college students.”
A recent silent demonstration in response to the messages was made up of gay and straight individuals holding posters and wearing tape over their mouths in defiance of the words and threats made against them. About 30 or more people stood on the quad of WestConn’s midtown campus and promoted such messages of “Love” and “Stop hate”.
“This is not as prevalent as it has been. 20 years ago people were not as tolerant as they are now and I don’t believe that these stupid decisions reflect the majority of the student population,” said Paul Steinmetz, the University’s vice president for institutional advancement said. “More reflective is the demonstration on Wednesday, where people came together.”
The FBI believes that “Hate crimes add an element of bias to traditional crimes.” Their website states “the mixture is toxic to our communities.” It is commonly referred to as a Bias-related Crime where the key element is the motivation against someone for the demographic group they belong to as opposed to a conflict between specific individuals.
Steinmetz affirmed that these kinds of actions are not tolerated in any way by the University, and that punishment to the furthest extent of the law and expulsion will be exacted if these individuals are caught.
“Making someone fearful in their own residence is an attack,” Steinmetz said. “This is the 21st century which is moving towards valuing ideas and performance, what you do in your private life or family life does not matter as much as it did. It’s one thing to stand on a street corner and say you don’t like gays, but it draws the line where you hunt specific individuals.”
“You don’t have to like people who are different, but know when to keep your mouth shut,” Steinmetz continued. He refers to himself as a “1st amendment man” and added, “words are just words, they can be let go. Don’t blame language that is not to blame. We need to be respectful instead of inappropriate.”
As a federal crime, actions like these can call for a year of imprisonment and a $2,000 dollar minimum fine.
The Echo is the student-run publication of Western Connecticut State University whose aim is to inform and enlighten the university community. The Echo’s goal is to establish and maintain an atmosphere of free and responsible journalism in an engaging and entertaining format. Anything published in The Echo in no way represents the opinion of the university or it’s faculty and administration.