Volume 96, Issue 86
Thursday, March 13, 2003

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Out of bathroom stalls and into public debate

Nicole Nelson
VP-Campus Issues

October 10, 539 BC: Celebration continues late into the night in the city of Babylon, while enemy forces camp outside. As King Belshazzar entertained followers, a disembodied hand scrawled cryptic writing on the wall; the kingdom was found wanting and Babylon would be taken by the Persians. The writing on the wall revealed the true state – and fate – of the Babylonian empire. Later that night Belshazzar was executed.

October 15, 2002: While the vibrant festivities of Coming Out Week colours the atrium, a mysterious chalker changed the decorations outside from "gay = okay" to "gay = AIDS." While this writing didn't come from a disembodied hand, I felt compelled to document it for those who don't believe this kind of thing happens at Western. After taking these photographs, I decided not to stop with Coming Out Week, and continued to photograph the graffiti that has become a nearly permanent feature of private spaces on campus.

At the beginning of this project, I imagined myself roaming the campus for months on end in search of the best of Western's hate graffiti. In a matter of an hour, however, I had collected some of the most racist and homophobic statements I had ever seen and all I had to do was take a jaunt through D.B. Weldon Library. In this haven of critical thought we call a university, it seems discrimination is not playing a very effective game of hide and seek.

Panels have been struck and inquiries made into the state of hate crimes in London, and yet we are confident our campus is largely unaffected. Who could imagine the hands that write such things could be attached to a person that lives, studies and works among us?

Stressing the "diverse" image of our campus, instead of addressing the root causes of hatred, allows individuals to be hateful in private, as long as they maintain an acceptable public front. Our multicultural education has failed to teach a portion of the population that homophobic, racist and sexist sentiments are false and has instead taught them that they are simply bad manners.

Political correctness has created a subculture of discrimination more harmful than outright slander. It leaves the victims of discrimination isolated, with nothing to point to as evidence – only the writing on the wall. By pushing hate and violence out of the public sphere and into the washroom stalls, we've moved it underground where it can't be touched by public debate.

Hopefully, we will find these images more shocking in the pages of a newspaper and we can begin to publicly recognize that prejudice and hate exist on our campus. Let's learn from Belshazzar's mistake.

As a campus, we must collectively acknowledge this problem and commit ourselves to action, so we have some hope of erasing the writing on the wall before statements – such as "I will kill a homo this year" – become prophecy.

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2002 THE GAZETTE