Student leaders must be better allies through their actions

Photograph Courtesy of Grizzly Staff

Michael Esposito

I was getting tea after lunch in Wismer, just as I always do. While talking to a friend about a guy I had gone on a few dates with, I said hello to another student I knew. The student turned away and said to me that he didn’t want to associate with “people like you.”

What kind of people could he be talking about? Ursinus Students? People who live in Reimert? Chemists? RAs? TAs? The dyslexic? People with glasses? Oh, I’ve got it. Faggots. He was talking about faggots.

Once I’d figured out what he was talking about, he had already left the cafeteria.

This incident reminded me of a similar moment during RA training when returning RAs pretend to act like students who are breaking policies or who are emotionally distressed so that training RAs can practice working in those situations. In one scene, I was acting as a suicidal student. The scenario had nothing to do with my sexuality. Later that day, an RA was talking about how well he had handled my theatric emotional crisis. He puffed out his chest and started his story with, “I was confronted with a gay individual…”

I thought, “People like me must be hard to handle. Not only did he save someone from severe make-believe trauma, he even saved a fag. Bravo!”

Another RA came up to me just this week and said, “I’ve heard a rumor about you. I heard someone punched you in the face.”

“Yes,” I replied. “That happened over a year ago. He hit me because I wouldn’t sleep with him. That’s not a rumor. That’s sexual assault.”

A “Be the Solution” sticker adorned this RA’s laptop. I might suggest that if I were a woman, he would have assumed that being assaulted and harassed was my fault. But, because I’m gay, he assumed it was a rumor I spread for attention. When this incident occurred last fall, a third RA went to our boss to express his concern that I was lying about being sexually harassed. These are the people who are supposed to believe you. Evidently, this one didn’t believe “someone like me.”

People like me can tell you millions of stories like these, where our identities are called into question and rejected by the people around us, by the people that we know, even by RAs.

Many of these RAs think that stickers on their doors or laptops that say, “Ally,” “Be the solution,” or “This is a safe space” indicate that they support all members of our community. This attitude is a symptom of the Student Affairs Office’s fetish for stickers, T-shirts, and other outward expressions that indicate that student leaders are accepting of others.

Let me be clear: owning a t-shirt or a sticker doesn’t mean you’re an ally. Your “Consent, it’s the BEAR minimum” t-shirt doesn’t mean you actually ask for consent, or support survivors of sexual violence. Your “Be the solution” sticker is not correct in its implication that you ARE the solution. These perceptions are all indications that this campus has fallen victim to a state of what I call “perceived caring.” That is to say that RAs, Bonner leaders, Fellows for the Center of Science and the Common Good, UCARE fellows, Peer Advocates, and other student leaders tend to believe, erroneously, that their positions on campus automatically signify that their behavior reflects values of justice, equality, inclusion, service and equity. This isn’t the case for all of these individuals, but some keep firm barriers between themselves and people like me, other members of the LGBTQ+ community, women, and students of color.

I’m not asking for perfection from campus leaders; I’m not saying I’m perfect. Rather, I’m simply asking for a bit of introspection. Think about your actions, rather than your t-shirt or your laptop decoration. Think about how your character, values, and comportment reflect the tenants of justice, equality, equity, and service that remain at the core of the Ursinus College Student Affairs mission statement. This is the only way that student leaders can begin to truly support the entire Ursinus community.

I must add that people like me, gay, white males, have an immense amount of privilege due to our race and gender. I can’t imagine what people of color, women, other LGBTQ students, and those with disabilities must go through every day on this campus, and everywhere else.

I continue to get tea every day after lunch. That is to say that people like me won’t be stopped by people like you. We go through every day at the risk of our identities being challenged, questioned, and belittled, even by those wearing “One-team” t-shirts. No matter what people like you think, we will continue to look in the mirror and be proud of what we see.

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