Taking on the trend of intolerant graffiti

by Beacon Staff • October 22, 2008

At issue: The racial slur found on a Piano Row bulletin board.

Our view: A swift, united denunciation of hate speech is the appropriate response.

Like clockwork, some vulgar graffiti seems to pop up once a year, scrawled on a dormitory whiteboard, inked on a bathroom stall or, this time, defacing a Piano Row bulletin board.

The 2008 iteration of hateful Emerson words includes a powerful, vile word. It rudely confronted Emerson students and administrators this week, and their response demonstrated admirable backbone and defiance.

Our news article on page one obliquely referred to the calumny as "an offensive racial epithet." We did not want to pollute the tops of campus newspaper racks with a few thousand representations of the bisyllabic slur. It's possible to euphemize the word and still clearly present the news.

Here, though, we believe it's important to address directly the word that caused so much hurt and dismay at Emerson this week. That word is "nigger."

The resident assistant who discovered the aspersion, Cheyenne Postell, subverted the rant by rebutting it, and then leaving it posted for students to see. Her response forced an honest reckoning with the term and the annual Emerson appearance of racial slurs.

By reprinting it here, we hope to inspire similar soul-searching about what happened in Piano Row: one student tried to intimidate others by invoking an oppressive term in a public space. Fortunately, fellow students and administrators have rallied around each other and Postell.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. In February, Robert Fleming, executive director of the Iwasaki Library, reported "anti-Semitic graffiti" in the stalls of a library bathroom. In 2006, it was homophobic taunts on a whiteboard. In 2005, pernicious posters popped up on students dormitory doors; one read "mud shark" and "tar baby," and the other, "fagot."

Patterns have emerged in the dozen prejudicial incidents reported to the Emerson College Police Department since 1995, according to past Beaconreports. They often happen early in a semester; they're often cowardly scrawled in a public space with no witnesses; Emerson students and administrators often profess shock and dismay that something like that could happen someplace like here.

This most recent incident of intolerance is like past ones in another way: it provoked a swift response from the Emerson community. Postell's rejoinder was singular in its boldness, but similar to past reactions in its clarity. The floor meeting convened by administrators made clear that she was not alone.

In the past, the imposition of mandatory diversity training has been floated in the wake of hateful speech like this. This page remains opposed to such a heavy-handed response.

It's clear the appropriate response to hysterical hate speech is a sober, campus-wide condemnation. So we stand behind Postell's rebuttal to prejudicial propagandists: we don't find it funny; in the future please keep it off our bulletin boards, bathroom stalls and whiteboards. It is not welcome here.