Standing with Elliot

Jok+Asiyo%2C+%2716%2C+hangs+the+banner.

Ellen Kanziger '18

Jok Asiyo, ’16, hangs the banner.

Conley Hurst

It’s difficult to imagine that in a place as beautiful and welcoming as Washington and Lee, someone could do something so hateful. I first heard about the vandalism early last Thursday from friends. As rumors continued to spread, the reality of the situation became more and more frightening. Vandalized cars. Vandalized houses. Hate speech. Homophobic slurs. Death threats. All afternoon, I told myself that a Washington and Lee student could never do such a thing.

I was wrong.

Needless to say, it’s shocking that a W&L student could have the capacity to even consider such a hateful act, much less carry it out. It made me doubt our strength as a community, our solidarity and our general sense of civility and respect for one another.

But it didn’t take long for my faith in W&L to be renewed.

The same day as the vandalism incident, I attended a gathering in Commons to show support for the attacked student, Elliot Emadian, and solidarity against hateful speech. The living room was literally packed full of students, professors, administrators and other community members. One by one, people offered supportive statements for Elliot and expressed the belief that Washington and Lee is much bigger than one hateful act. Together, their compassionate words resonated far louder than any hate speech.

So I want to take this opportunity to speak for myself, for the Ring-Tum Phi, and for the Washington and Lee community as a whole to say that we stand with you, Elliot, as you heal. We stand with you because we know that love is so much more powerful than hate. We stand with you because we know our community is stronger than one terrible act. We stand with you because we are a community of honor, civility, and respect, albeit an imperfect one. We stand with you because, as W&L students, we look out for one another and love one another. At the end of the day, that’s what this place is all about.

As is often the case, this horrible act brought out the best in our community. But it also forces us to confront the issues that are still very much alive on this campus. It forces us to realize that though we espouse our focus on honor, civility, and respect, these values aren’t always as pervasive as we may want to believe.

Being “different” at Washington and Lee is difficult. As a straight, white male, I honestly wouldn’t know much about this. But I have enough friends in the LGBTQ community to understand the challenges second-hand. Luckily, there are support systems in place such as the LGBTQ Resource Center and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. But these can only do so much unless embraced by the broader community.

As a student body, we must practice what we preach. We say that we are a community of honor, and I do honestly believe this. But honor is about more than not cheating on a test or not stealing someone’s backpack. It’s about recognizing the dignity in every member. It’s about being intolerant of intolerance, wherever it may be found. It’s about loving one another, looking out for one another, and supporting one another regardless of our differences. Indeed, it is about embracing our differences and letting them contribute to the rich fabric of our university.

As we stand with Elliot during these hard times, let’s rededicate ourselves to living out our creed. Let’s rededicate ourselves to treating all members of our community with the respect they deserve. At its best, W&L is a welcoming, close-knit community bound together by the common ideals of honor and civility. Let’s embrace that W&L, that special place that we can all call home.