The Need to Self-Regulate

by Alison Terry | 11/14/05 6:00am

Last Friday in a well-subscribed government class, a young man was writing notes to a girl next to him. Being the confrontational person that he is, our professor took the interruption as a personal attack and decided to read their note. After he did, he seemed a little shaken. "What were you thinking? You can't write stuff like that, man!" he said to the boy. In true professorial fashion, he likened this situation to the material that we had been studying in class.

The professor's initial reaction was to refer the boy to Committee on Standards, but he decided instead that public humiliation would probably be an adequate punishment. He wrote the text of the note on the board. "She's a Lesi." Groans and giggles of response could be heard from the class.

The boy tried to defend himself saying that the quote was taken out of context. He said that it could just be a fact about a girl that he knows. First of all, the word "Lesi" is out of fashion. I do not know a single lesbian who would consciously introduce herself: "Hi, I'm Jane. I'm a Lesi!" With that in mind, I do not believe that this boy was merely making an observation.

Instead of trying to deflect responsibility for the comment, I would have respected this boy much more if he had simply owned up to his mistake. It says in the Dartmouth Community Standards of Conduct, "The integrity of the Dartmouth community depends upon students' and student organizations' acceptance of individual responsibility and respect for the rights of others." I do not think this guy is a tool for making a slur. He can think what he wants about homosexuals. Free speech is also protected in the Standards of Conduct: "Dartmouth College prizes and defends the right of free speech and the freedom of the individual to make his or her own disclosures..."

Unfortunately for this lad, writing notes is a rather covert way of communicating opinions. I would compare this instance to one in which an anonymous person plastered the campus with posters saying something to the effect of "gay people suck." This would violate the Dartmouth conception of free speech, as responsibility for this action cannot be linked to any one person. I do not care if you hate homosexuals or label them with '80s lingo as long as you can stand up and defend yourself.

The second problem with this situation is that the note-writing boy cannot really be tried by the COS. As per the Standards of Conduct: "There are many behaviors that most members of the community would find rude, disrespectful or obnoxious that violate no College regulation and are, therefore, not adjudicable under the disciplinary system. The fact that many behaviors are not adjudicable does not mean that the College does not take them seriously or fails to appreciate their negative impact on individuals or on the community." Therefore, I propose that if for no other reason than common decency comments like "She's a Lesi" need to be saved for your angst-filled journal.

Let me also make this clear. I was sitting in front of the boy who wrote this note. I could reasonably presume that he was calling me out for looking like a boy. When I shared this story with a lesbian friend, we discussed possible courses of action. She thought I should have punched him. I was more in favor of hiring a hit man to fight him. Of course those actions would only further the problem, but the moral of the story is that I could not keep this situation to myself. I do not want to cause any trouble. I just want to be able to go to class without disrespectful comments being made behind my back.

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