Viewpoint: United for understanding

BY JAMES STINSON III AND ALEXANDER WOOD

Published October 6, 2010

As campus has witnessed over the past week, the problems inherent in creating equal civil rights in our country have yet to be fully resolved. Today, difficult issues of bullying, sexual identity and privacy are interwoven into a portrait of reality that America would rather not confront. But this silence has a cost: In the past year alone, at least 10 gay teenagers across the nation have taken their own lives as a result of bullying and harassment.

The most recent of these tragedies occurred at Rutgers University, where freshman Tyler Clementi took his own life last week after two of his hall mates filmed him having a sexual encounter with another male student. After the encounter was broadcast online, Tyler jumped off the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River.

But amid the fog of this sadness, there are glimmers of light and hope. From University President Mary Sue Coleman to the dozens of student groups that signed onto the “Expect Respect” petition, this campus has been an example of acceptance, openness and expression of self while grappling with our own case of intolerance.

Both local and national news outlets have covered the story of Andrew Shirvell, a Michigan assistant attorney general, who has created and maintained a blog that criticizes our Michigan Student Assembly president primarily because of his sexual identity.

Shirvell’s attacks on Chris Armstrong, his family, friends and campus affiliations are unwarranted, unnecessary and wrong. We stand up against Shirvell’s personal attacks on Armstrong in addition to the misrepresentation and misuse of Order of Angell, a senior leadership society, as a way to propagate his hate agenda. As individuals through our respective organizations and as a collective, we continue to fight for the respect of all, regardless of background. The strength to fight comes from within, as we are an organization that reflects today’s society: we are gay and straight; of color and white; conservative and progressive; and religious and secular. And we are committed to standing for the individuals that make up our university. Using Order of Angell as a scapegoat and shroud for discrimination only circumvents confronting actual issues.

Shirvell’s attacks against all parties are ignorant, ill-informed and, above all, unfounded. They detract from the real point: As a campus community, there is a need among all of us for more constructive dialogue that leads to positive understanding and action.

Let our campus culture continue to evolve as we stand up to intolerance and hate wherever it may rear its head. Let the grumbles denouncing Shirvell and his actions grow louder and broader as we stand up against bigotry, whether it be in Ann Arbor or anywhere else. And let the members of this campus community feel even more proud for being their diverse selves, regardless of religious belief, race, sexual orientation or any other metric.

As our student body president, Armstrong purposefully chose to surround himself with diverse students, leaders, and opinions. As we build a better tomorrow, we should all embrace Armstrong’s action to accept everyone, regardless of background or identity. As one step out of many, we invite you to attend the Campus GlowLight Vigil on Monday, Oct. 11 at 8:15pm near the Cube. This vigil is one of many events the Spectrum Center is planning next week, and is a way to send a message that bullying, hate and bias are not acceptable.

May all students proudly attend next week’s events to show that, regardless of one’s personal point of view, intolerant demagogues and hatred have no place at our university. The attacks against Armstrong have shown that we can’t let our guard down. We must continually show our unyielding devotion to that which makes us who we are — the diverse and tolerant students of the University of Michigan.

This viewpoint was written by James Stinson III and Alexander Wood on behalf of Order of Angell.