I packed up the props I’d used in class. I carefully inserted my students’ papers and exams into the “to be graded” pocket in my bag. I touched the glass window beside my desk, shivering involuntarily.
I wrapped my warmest scarf around my neck, pulled on the hat my students (and my own children) laughed at, laced my snow boots, and put on my heavy coat. It was winter in upstate New York and the sidewalks were still imperfect from the twenty-three incher two days ago. Trudging through the student parking lot toward the small faculty lot I used, I noticed a quarter inch had fallen while I was distracted by student conferences.
I looked forward to sitting around a fire with my family after my long day. I wondered if I should pick up a pizza for dinner or if Maggie had another idea. Though I certainly didn’t feel like cooking, my mood was upbeat. I was gratified by the discussion we’d had in class that afternoon. My students were finally grasping the concepts they’d been struggling with for several weeks.
When I got to my car, all of the joy flushed out of me. Scrawled across the back of my car, in the newly fallen snow was one word: Fag.
I perceived this as a reaction to the rainbow sticker across the top of my rear window. I perceived this as a hateful act. I felt diminished. If I felt this way…what if? What if, I wondered, this had happened to one of my students? What if I was gay or lesbian or transgender? What if this action was directed at an immutable part of who I am?
The next morning I reported the issue to Security. None of the thousands of students at the college should be subjected to hate based upon their orientation. The connection between my rainbow sticker and the disgusting word scrawled in the snow was clear, I said.
I was dismissed. It was random, I was told. Nothing they could do, I was told.
Next, I spoke to my Department Chair. She was sympathetic to my concern for students, agreeing it was a hateful act. Unfortunately, political considerations and transitions-in-the-making kept her from using any of her remaining clout in support of pushing this issue. She gave me strategic assistance but essentially I was on my own.
I contacted the head of Security. In what I think was a well-articulated email, I described what happened. I expressed my concern for LGBT students.It was random, I was told. Nothing he could do, I was told.
In the end, I dropped it. I was getting nowhere. That was more than fifteen years ago.
To this day, I regret I didn’t work harder at getting at least an acknowledgement that a hateful act had occurred. I don’t recall whether, as a non-tenured faculty member, I was afraid of causing trouble. Perhaps, but I think I’d remember that emotion. I think the sin is that I dropped the matter because I was busy. I gave up because it was easier. How many students, staff, and faculty suffered similar hatred because I stopped too soon?
I confess I’ve failed to use all of my gifts and talents when faced with injustice. Forgive this sin. Too often I use busy-ness or “not my fight” as an excuse for allowing an injustice to continue. Forgive my self-focus. Nag me. Remind me that bumper stickers are not enough. Move me. Keep me restless for your dream for our world. Help me to strive for justice wherever and whenever I encounter it. Amen.