LGBTQ community urges action in wake of homophobic vandalism

A pride flag flies outside the Rainbow House on Oct. 4. Alexander Thompson / The Tufts Daily

In the second act of hatred at Tufts in just three weeks, a student discovered their dorm door engraved with a well-known homophobic slur late Wednesday night. This incident has sparked calls by Tufts’ LGBTQ community for the university to take decisive action to address prejudice and intolerance on campus.

The Tufts University Police Department (TUPD) was notified of the vandalism found in Lewis Hall just before midnight Wednesday, according to the public incident log

TUPD and the Office of Equal Opportunity, which are carrying out investigations of the incident, declined to comment or say whether the perpetrator had been identified.

University President Anthony Monaco informed the community of the incident in a mid-morning email Friday. Monaco condemned the act and called it “antithetical” to Tufts’ values, assuring that the perpetrator would be punished.

“In the face of such incidents, we must all recommit ourselves to ensuring that Tufts remains an open, inclusive, and welcoming community.” the president wrote. “All students, faculty, and staff should have the opportunity to thrive at Tufts, living, working, and studying without the threat of bias or discrimination.”

Hope Freeman, the director of the LGBT Center, called the word used “hurtful, harmful and hateful,” pointing to the sordid history of the slur’s use against members of the LGBTQ community.

“It basically means you’re not wanted,” she said. “If anything, it indicates that you’re not safe.”

As students learned of the news around campus today, their initial shock quickly turned to demands for serious action on the part of the university.

Tyler Whitaker, who identifies as gay, said that coming to Tufts, while he expected to be uncomfortable at times, he had never imagined hate speech would be so blatant or recurrent.  

“I think an appropriate first reaction is shock,” he said. “I think the second, and the one that felt a lot worse was that feeling of ‘Oh my god, is this happening again?’ We so recently had the incident of the swastika and then to have this happen so immediately afterwards is just kind of disheartening.”

Whitaker, a sophomore, said that he did not see the same sense of anger and indignation in Monaco’s email or the administration’s response, and that he wanted to see serious action taken; he called for expulsion if the perpetrator is found to be a student and a full accounting of the event.

He also wants to see the consequences of hate speech made more explicit to deter students from once again engaging in similar behavior.

Marley Hillman, a queer student, said that unlike Whitaker, they were not surprised by the incident.

“I was upset but more an angry kind of upset. I’m disappointed but not surprised that acts of hatred continue to happen on our campus,” Hillman, a junior, said.

Freeman echoed students’ appeals for action, saying that many students told her that they greatly appreciated the president’s response but after so many incidents, many are also urging for the administration to go further.

“There are also folks that are like ‘Yeah, it’s not enough that the president knows but also how is the president supporting the administration … to create a culture that shifts,’” she said.

Monaco was on hand to hear these and other concerns during an open session for students to process the day’s news at the LGBT Center Friday afternoon. Some students were blunt with the president about their desire for action during the conversation, and Monaco spent a little over an hour listening to their concerns and answering questions.

The president was joined by Rob Mack, Tufts’ chief diversity officer, who is currently leading an overhaul of diversity and inclusion policies at the university. In an interview separate from the discussion, he said he was deeply disappointed and saddened by the incident which targeted one of his own identities.

Despite this act of hate, Mack said, Tufts is working to deliver the change for which many students were clamoring in the wake of Wednesday’s incidents.

“It is a lengthy and involved process, but we are going to continue to build our infrastructure and reach our goals and continue to do our best and make Tufts the place that we believe it is,” he said.

Part of that process has been the hiring of a new associate dean for diversity and inclusion, who was also at the LBGT Center this afternoon. 

Nandi Bynoe, the associate dean of diversity and inclusion for the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering, said that the session and listening to students are a powerful part of the response, but like Mack, she pledged that action to prevent more incidents like Wednesday’s is a priority.

“I know that we need to do something more that’s proactive — that’s not reactive, and so there’s a lot of conversations about that. Hopefully, we’ll be able to share that with the community,” she said.

Other students present at the listening session took issue with the administration’s emails about the incident.

Hillman criticized the wording of Monaco’s email in which he described the homophobic vandalism and the swastika incident as “incident[s] of bias,” though he initially described it as an “act of hatred” and an “[act] of discrimination, bias, and ignorance.”

“Calling it an incident of bias versus an act of hate, I think diminishes the severity and importance of such an incident,” Hillman said. “And it’s an indication of how seriously the university may or may not be taking it.”

Freeman said that while calling it an “incident of bias” was technically correct, that wording indicated these incidents have been sporadic instead of a repeated occurrence on campus.

“I think that it’s important that we make sure that we are using language that really speaks to what exactly is going on,” she said.

Patrick Collins, Tufts’ executive director of public relations, declined to comment on Monaco’s wording in the email.

In that email, Monaco also expressed disappointment that he was alerting Tufts to an incident of hate for the second time in less than a month.

Indeed, Wednesday’s events were only another in a series of hateful acts at Tufts. Last semester alone, campus was roiled by an antisemitic postering of Tufts Hillel, a student’s social media post of herself in blackface and pro-Trump slogans spray-painted over messages supporting survivors of sexual assault on the Cannon.

These events come against the backdrop of an increase in acts of hate on college campuses nationwide, according to a 2019 survey conducted by the Fund for Leadership, Equity, Access and Diversity.