I am a proud Emory alum. I have to start by saying that. From 1994 to 1998 I was an undergrad at the university, a place that has left an indelible mark on my life. I still stay officially connected to my alma mater through reunion committees and other obligations. I truly love Emory.
And that's why I have to say that today I am deeply disappointed. As an alum, I am a member of the Emory community. And so when I received an email from my college roommate today about an event that took place this weekend, I was more than a little concerned for my community. Emory, a place that nurtured me as an out undergrad, is now in the news for the anti-gay actions of an alum and a group of students.
This weekend an alum named Adam Smith allegedly physically ejected a gay party-goer from an off-campus party. The partygoer apparently wore a wizard's hat to the party, along with a loud jacket and pants. Smith allegedly questioned his "gay ass hat", and then asked the student whether he was gay. When the student responded that he was, Smith is said to have used the word "faggot" as he physically threw the student out of the house. According to partygoers, many cheered.
When I attended Emory it was one of the most gay-friendly schools in the South. We had a non-discrimination policy that included LGBT people. The school offered domestic partnership benefits. We were one of the few Southern schools to have an office of LGBT life, and one of the few anywhere to have a full-time director.
I was the president of our undergrad student LGBT group and I found nothing put support from the administration. We found support from representatives of the undergrad community who voted us the student organization of the year in 1997. I personally found great support from classmates who elected me as their representative to student government as an openly gay woman. I would argue that Emory was way ahead of its time in many ways.
But there were also indications that all was not well. My freshman year an out, gay male friend found a poster on his dorm room door that read, among other things, "faggot, die of AIDS". Additionally, signs were placed around his dorm with his room number drawings of men having sex with one another. Despite the fact that only one student in the dorm had a scanner capable of producing the signs, and that this student was a known homophobe, the administration did nothing.
Contrast that with another situation that occurred in Emory's dorms several years before that. One student had slipped a racist note under another student's door. In the aftermath the entire university was outraged. A police investigation was begun, and sensitivity training happened everywhere. The difference in responses between the two incidents was never lost on me.
There were other indications as well. One night, for instance, when we chalked slogans for National Coming Out Day outside of the student center (with the permission of campus life), a police officer made us wash them off. And then there were the less-than-gay-aware interactions that friends of mine had at the student health and counseling center.
In many ways, I think that Emory is the first-tier research university that its rankings suggest. It is a fine school with world-class resources. It's a place of which I'm still proud to be a part. As a school, Emory has done a lot to be a community leader in the fight for LGBTQ equality. But, it's clear that it is also a place that needs to do more.
If what we hear about the party turns out to have been true, Emory not only graduated a man who believes it is okay to use the word "gay" to demean someone's clothing choices, but who also believes it's appropriate to call him a "faggot" and physically assault him. That's a problem. Receiving an Emory degree means more than simply completing a rigorous courseload. It also means learning to live in a community that has a strong policy of inclusion. Somewhere along the way, Mr. Smith slipped through the cracks and his behavior was never challenged.
Were I to meet Mr. Smith I would remind him that when we graduated from Emory the university president conferred our degrees saying that as Emory graduates we now not only gained, "rights, honors, and privileges" but also "responsibilities". If the allegations are true, Mr. Smith has failed in the responsibility and brought shame upon his, and my, alma mater.
But Mr. Smith is not the only problem here. There is also the issue of the cheering partygoers. From what we know, it seems that no one intervened to stop Mr. Smith from aggressively touching a young man he was calling "faggot". One thing I learned well at Emory, particularly from professors and staff members who had studied the Holocaust or participated in the Civil Rights Movement, is that silence is acceptance. And the young gay man was met more than just silence. He was met with cheers of approval for his attacker. If this is the culture that is being allowed to thrive at Emory, that is an indication that something is deeply wrong.
I love my alma mater, and honor what is has done right. But I love it too much to not acknowledge that it has made some mistakes around responding to homophobia in the past. I am watching this story closely to see how it will respond to this situation. My hope is that the university will not try to bury this story under the guise of "internal discipline" but will instead show those of us who are LGBTQ alumni what they are doing to transform the culture at Emory. For all its flaws, Emory was still a marvelous place for a young, out undergrad fifteen years ago. My hope is that it will learn from the mistakes of its past in dealing with this incident, and make it the kind of place I would choose all over again.