Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 9
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Car vandalism unnerves students

On April 26, exactly one week after this year’s opening night of “Vagina Monologues” at Whitman, senior Mindy* walked home from the library to find the words “Your vagina lips are loose” sprawled out in red paint on the front and driver’s side window of her car.

“I kind of just stood there and looked at it and looked at it. It sort of shook me up,” said Mindy, who performed in the “Monologues” a week before.

Mindy’s car had been parked on the corner of Merriam and Cyprus Streets, outside the house where the cast party for the “Vagina Monologues” had been held the previous Saturday. It was difficult to discern what the message meant or who it was intended for.

“I immediately wanted to know who did this and why,” said Mindy. “I’m not sure what I want the answers to those questions to be, or if it’s something I even want to know. I mean, it’s hard to tell what the statement was. I don’t want it to be personal, but it’s almost sadder if it wasn’t.”

Mindy sent an e-mail to first-year Gabriela Salvidea, who produced the “Vagina Monologues” this year. Salvidea forwarded the e-mail to the “Vagina Monologues” listserv and sent a general e-mail to the student and community listservs voicing her concern.

“I immediately got a ton of responses from students and faculty members who were both supportive and outraged and offered services,” said Salvidea.

Many of the e-mails Salvidea received urged Mindy to go to the police and report the incident as a hate crime.

“At this point I don’t think the goal was to ever find out who it was but to instead kind of bring the incident to the community’s attention and make people talk about it,” said Salvidea.

Mindy did not report the incident to the police, although she did fill out a report on the Whitman College Web site.

“What you’re supposed to do if you want to report [vandalism as a hate crime] is take a bunch of pictures of it, have witnesses look at it, sign statements that they’ve seen it and then go to the police. That’s rough, I think, because your instinct is to make it go away,” said junior Beth Frieden who performed with Mindy in the “Vagina Monologues.”

Whitman Security Director Craig McKinnon said that this is the first incident of vandalism in years that has been evidently hateful in nature.

“Since 10 years ago there has been a dramatic change from what used to occur. There used to be slanderous stuff written on bathroom stalls about students that you don’t see anymore. Students used to have their projects destroyed with notes posted on them,” said McKinnon, who has worked at Whitman for 26 years. “When this instance occurred I was shocked because it hasn’t been something that occurs here, and when it happens, you know you’ve got somebody who’s got a serious problem and they really need to be sat down so you can find out what’s going on with them. If it can’t be fixed then they shouldn’t be here, in my personal opinion.”

McKinnon is on the committee for Whitman’s Action Against Hate (AAH), which was formed in 2003 to provide resources and information for victims of hate and bias incidents.

Students have voiced concerns that AAH is not particularly well-known on campus and that many people would not know where to go if they witnessed or were victim to a hate or bias incident. To raise awareness, AAH has proposed a hate and bias crime policy which is in the process of getting passed.
“[This policy] is a big part of what I think is lacking at Whitman. We have no hate or bias crime or incident policy right now. We’ve been trying to get it passed for almost three years, but the faculty members that need to pass it won’t pass it for some reason,” said sophomore Julia Leavitt, a student member of AAH.

“It just seems strange that there is no policy already in place. We have this whole sexual harassment policy and that’s pretty similar,” said Frieden. “Yeah, the government can prosecute it, but if the person doesn’t want to bring it to the police, they should be able to bring it to the College and have the College condemn it as well.”
McKinnon is optimistic.

“We’re working with faculty and we have a rough draft [of the policy] and we’re very close to actually having it finalized and put in the books,” McKinnon said. “We get a report about once every two weeks or three weeks; it just depends on what’s occurring and who knows about it. Once we start getting flyers out and pamphlets out so it’s more noticeable, that will wake people up.”

Although some have suggested that steps be taken by the College to instigate discussion about possible negative reactions to the “Vagina Monologues,” neither Frieden nor Salvidea is convinced that such a program would be practical.

“To me [the vandalism] seems so childish and immature and pathetic that I don’t know that there’s anything sophisticated we could do stop people from doing things like this. I mean, would someone who resorts to graffiti even attend some discussion or panel about these issues? Their reaction was not intellectual or constructive; I wonder if they would engage in a different reaction,” said Salvidea.
Frieden doubts what discussion could feasibly stem from this incident.

“I can’t really see what kind of discussion there would be. If the college were to run a discussion it would be like, ‘This is bad, don’t do it,'” she said.

Alumnus Dylan Carlson (’05) raised concerns about the way that the incident has been discussed among students on various listservs.

“When you use the words ‘hate crime’ and ‘hate speech’ together it creates the idea that there can be criminal speech. If you want to call it vandalism, call it vandalism. If you want to call it harassment, call it harassment. But you start getting into shady territory when you start to become comfortable with the idea of criminal speech,” said Carlson, who also had concern that anyone would be made to feel violated on Whitman’s campus.

However, most who voiced opinions on the incident felt that awareness about hate crimes deserved more attention in general. Mindy hopes that her experience can shed light on hatred against women, especially at Whitman.

“I think the big thing about this is knowing that this shit happens. We need to be aware of what’s happening to women on Whitman’s campus even today. We think we’re so progressive, but we’re not,” she said.

McKinnon emphasized that hate is a major problem that will continue to need work.

“If we didn’t have hate, this whole world would be fine,” he said. “If hate wasn’t there, we’d be a utopia. The more that we work on that, the more we get there with that, but it’s going to take a lot of time to get the whole world in sync on this.”

* Name has been changed by request to protect identity.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All Whitman Wire Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *