In defense of Emerson’s character

by Trelawny Vermont-Davis / Beacon Staff • March 20, 2013

Emerson is about community — passionate, unconventional, imperfect, student-led community. However, if you have logged into Facebook in the past couple of weeks and read over your 10 to 15 notifications from the formerly titled “Emerson Students Stepping Up To Sexual Assault” group, or read the viral Isis article detailing the “Race Problem at Emerson,” you might be inclined to have different, unenthusiastic opinions regarding the place we all call home.

I’m proud that students at Emerson have the courage to tell their stories, regardless of the pain and humiliation that comes with doing so. I’m proud that a dialogue has been started. And further, I applaud the intentions behind the creators of the Facebook group and author of the Isis article. But now is the perfect time for us to remind ourselves, and those outside of the Emerson bubble looking in, who we are, even in times of trauma and pain. 

Whenever I speak with high school friends who attend other universities, I am reminded of just how inimitable our college really is. A school where LGBTQ tolerance is consistently ranked in the top 10 for colleges, an alumni pool unparalleled in the entertainment industry, a political communication department where professors double as press secretaries for the governor, and film teachers who casually have Oscars in their living rooms. 

Think about that student show you went to at one of Boston’s superlative playhouses that we happen to own; think about walking from class to Sweetwater and back to your dorm, only having to bear the weather for a total of 45 seconds. Try to remember laying out in the Common with all your roommates in the middle of unseasonably warm March weather, or organizing a high-end fashion show sponsored by some of fashion’s leading clothing boutiques — these are not things typically associated with Boston University or even Harvard: they are ours.

Emerson is imperfect for many of the reasons that it is different. With a student body from places around the globe, not everyone is adept to social interaction with people from whom they are different. This is evidenced by some of the instances of indirect racism illustrated in the Isis article. And discernibly, within our diverse student body, there are students previously unexposed to the deplorable truths of sexual assault, often hindering them from joining or sympathizing with the Facebook groups seeking to bring awareness to these issues. 

The biggest risk we face isn’t spreading too little awareness, but rather doing so in an out-of-context way that ends up sullying the name of the school we all care so much about.

Sexual assault on college campuses is certainly something that needs to be addressed, and anyone would be blind to say that racial ignorance is not prevalent within our community. No one would say that Emerson is a beacon of perfection among college campuses. We fall victim to the same horribly unfortunate ludicrousness that all places of higher education and American society seem to. But in the context of social media protests and viral online articles, we should tread softly. 

We are not immune to the injustices of the world we live in; everyone deciding to come here should know that. But we want potential students to come here because of the wacky, fun, insanely driven community that has defined Emerson since my mother’s graduating class in the 70s, and undoubtedly before then.  

There will always be prospective Lions who tour Emerson and are put off by the overtly liberal community, girls wearing heels and an up-do to class, the endless cloud of cigarette smoke in front of the Little Building, and think to themselves, “This isn’t for me. I’m going to Suffolk.” And that’s their loss. But before we drive them away by publishing stories and clogging newsfeeds with reasons not to be here, let’s remind ourselves that great things happen at our school, and we mustn’t hold Emerson wholly accountable for the unfair world we live in.