Student, College respond to hateful message
Nicole Caratas | Monday, November 23, 2015
When Saint Mary’s junior Maranda Pennington came home to a message written in permanent marker on her white board that told her to “leave” and contained a homophobic slur, she posted the message on Facebook with a caption saying she would stand her ground.
“You not only attacked my identity but my right to exist openly on this campus,” she said in the Facebook post. “ … I hope one day you will be able to love and respect others even when they’re different from you. Until then, I just thought you should know that I’m not afraid of you and I’m not going anywhere.”
Pennington said she was shocked when she found the message, especially because she has gained confidence in her ability to speak out about LGBTQ issues on campus.
“My goal this year was to help make Saint Mary’s a more inclusive and welcoming place for all people,” Pennington said. “I was angry and hurt, but my emotions didn’t cloud the fact that this was an opportunity for our community to rally together against homophobia and hate speech in general.”
The College’s administration addressed the situation the following day in a school-wide email in which Karen Johnson, vice president of student affairs, said the College will not tolerate aggression. She said the act was harassment and a direct violation of the College’s Code of Student Conduct and the Discriminatory Harassment Policy.
“As a Catholic institution, Saint Mary’s College holds its students to a high standard of ethical and moral conduct,” Johnson said in the email. “Consequently, there is a strong emphasis on self-awareness and a distinct consideration for the lives and feelings of others. The College commits itself to maintaining a safe and welcoming environment where each individual’s dignity is upheld and differences are celebrated. As a community, we reject and condemn all forms of harassment, wrongful discrimination and disrespect.”
Pennington said she is thankful for the way administration responded.
“The administration has been nothing but compassionate and supportive this week,” she said. “I hope that this continues into making more resources available for LGBTQ students on campus.”
Pennington said this incident was a reminder that though the climate has been improving, there is a lot of work left to do to gain full LGBTQ acceptance.
“My goal for Saint Mary’s is to have an LGBTQ resource center on campus that has properly trained staff and is well-advertised,” she said. “I have been so pleased with the administration and student response this week, but merely denouncing the hateful vandalism will not change anything at the end of the day.
“All I have been thinking about since Wednesday is, what if this happened to a closeted student who didn’t feel safe speaking out on social media?” she said. “Would they know who they could go to? Would they feel comfortable reporting it? Would anyone ever hear about it? Probably not. Hate has not been eradicated from campus; most of the time we just don’t hear about it. The bottom line is, we need to do more to protect the safety and mental health of LGBTQ students. A lot of this can be done through education and empathy.”
Pennington’s Facebook post received 96 shares and several hundred “likes” and comments. Junior Alaina Anderson submitted the story to Huffington Post’s “Unicorn of the Week” series, which is an award recognizing people who do something positive for the LGBTQ community. Pennington was chosen as this week’s unicorn.
“Watching a video of a complete stranger talking about my response to the vandalism was surreal,” Pennington said. “I am extremely grateful for the recognition, and it gives me the motivation to do more to challenge homophobia in the future.”
Other student responses included a number of students posting uplifting and supportive messages that said “Stay You” on Pennington’s door.
“The amount of support I have received on social media and in person has been overwhelming,” Pennington said. “I am incredibly lucky to have such high quality people in my life.”