When I was 20 years old, there was an op/ed ran in my college newspaper, The Journal, at Webster University, about how our annual drag show should be eliminated because it would create confusion. I’ve never seen an article divide so many people and cause more fights than that one. We had more focus on our little newspaper that week than at any point during my four years. The op/ed’s author in question was a conservative student who didn’t really get the importance of drag and its role at Webster every year in the Drag Ball. We may have clashed over viewpoints and political leanings, but we never outright hated each other despite the disagreements we had at the time.


Today, I see the news stories about the racist and homophobic flyers left outside a student’s dorm room at Webster, and to be honest - I’m reeling. Webster University played such a crucial role in my formative years as an adult. I found my best friend there, I became a better writer, eventually majoring in journalism there, and it was here I came out as a gay man in 2009. Webster University is (or at least back in the day) a liberal’s playground. You probably couldn’t find a more left-leaning campus, at least from the experiences I had. Seriously, I probably met more LGBTQ people, more people of different races, ethnicities and religions during my four years than I probably have since graduating in 2011.


So when I heard the news of this potential hate crime at my alma matter, it took me back. I know we tease and joke about “safe spaces” in this ultra-PC age, but the truth is that on campus, and especially in a student dormitory, young minds shouldn’t have to deal with this. When I was still closeted, Webster was my safe space, where I could be openly gay before returning home to hide my true self. A university, especially one like Webster, should be a real safe space where students can learn, can express themselves and do what and how they want without fear. I was already proud to see my fellow Gorloks out in full force protesting Donald Trump and the news that Webster had paid $17,000 to a firm that specializes in convincing employees not to unionize.


I think what startles me most is that on the campus of such a liberal institution as Webster University, even there, we cannot escape the reach of the nasty viewpoints that has become emboldened in the wake of Trump’s win. I will commend Webster for acting swiftly to denounce the hate and reaffirm their mission of diversity, as well as the Residential Life employees who quickly had set up meetings available to every on-campus student.


As an alumnus, it’s no secret I have been vocal and critical of the missteps of the administration during my student tenure and since my graduation. But the steps taken in the wake of this potential crime remind me of why I am proud to be a Gorlok. But at the same time, when I’ve seen a lot of upheaval and controversy from Webster’s administration, I would like to see more from them in terms of support in the wake of all this. I’m (politely) asking Webster University president, Dr. Beth Stroble, whose tenure began in my senior year, to not only denounce in no uncertain terms this horrific action, but meet with the affected student. You owe it to them, Dr. Stroble, as president of the university and representative of the face of Webster University at large.


And to my fellow Gorloks, do not let this deter you. You are all wonderful, and I know that because I am one of you. We are all different, we all are amazing: from the Journal students, to the ResLife employees, Conservatory students, student government, our varied and wonderful athletes, LGBTQ alliance, my fellow Journal writers, etc. (Apologies to anyone I left out). Webster University is your home, as it was mine, and you should absolutely have the right to learn and discover what you love about this world without threats to your life because of your race, gender or sexual orientation. Keep being yourselves, keep learning, keep asking questions, and don’t give up. Ever.


Know that, at least from me, you have a large alumni network ready to fight for you. We’re easily reachable through Facebook, especially for those of us with Webster tagged on our profiles. And if you are not finding your help with the administration, or if the pleas are being ignored, let us know. I truly believe that no matter how many years separate us, we are a family. And the only way we will survive, as Gorloks, and more widely as human beings, is by standing strong in the face of adversity. We have to condemn the hatred and stand against it.


I might be a little disheartened at what has happened on the campus where I grew up, but I truly believe that this hate crime will unite Webster, and in turn, the entire university family past and present for whatever comes next.

 

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