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A Cruel Joke or An Institutional Failure?

by Micah Wilkins, Editor-in-Chief

By now, we should all know what happened.

By now, we should have had dozens of conversations about it.

By now, we should have felt a hundred feelings and thought countless thoughts about it.

What was discovered on Monday morning—the letters “KKK” and a smiley face carved into the bark of a young tree in front of Gladfelter—is an absolute disgrace to this community.

It was an act that hurt and isolated individuals on our campus, people of color in particular. The Ku Klux Klan has a bloody history of targeting Jews, Catholics, and homosexuals, but they are mostly associated with their notorious violence against African American communities throughout the United States.

Whether or not the perpetrator intended this as a threat or as an obtuse joke is beside the point. Actions like this are not welcome in this community regardless of the ignorance or the intent of the person who committed them.

Monday’s vigil was a powerful event. Circling around the tree, students shared songs and Chaplain Brian Ammons reminded us that the conversation needs to continue beyond just those 30 minutes of reflection.

Racism is not just a racial slur written on a student’s door. Racism is not just “KKK” carved into a tree. Racism happens everyday on our campus, in subtle ways and in not-so-subtle ways, in the classroom, in dorms, on the pedestrian bridge, in Gladfelter.

As a white person, I do not feel the impacts of these incidents in the same way, to the same degree, that other students do. While these events personally hurt and threaten individual people on our campus, they are also extremely damaging to the community as a whole.

We have been throwing this word around a lot since I arrived at Warren Wilson: diversity.

But since 2010, the color of this campus has not changed much. Incidents like this will keep happening unless we take firm, intentional steps to work against racism, both on a personal level and on an institutional level. What we need is a steadfast diversity initiative, to bring more color, more perspectives, to this campus. This is the only way that we can incorporate different worldviews, and this is the only way we can overcome disheartening incidents of blatant ignorance and racism.

After Monday’s incident, I feel frustrated, angry, confused, disappointed and sad, but mostly, I am tired. I am tired of events like this happening on my campus. I am tired of receiving e-mails from the Dean of Students, repeating the same message that racist acts on campus are NOT OK, a message that should already be obvious. I am tired of seeing the few students of color on campus frustrated and hurt by the myriad of ways that they are isolated and targeted on this predominantly white campus. I am tired of the ignorance of some of our white students.

Jefferson Pinder, an African American artist, put it best when he came to give a presentation on his artwork on Nov. 7. To a crowd that nearly filled Canon Lounge, he directly said that he was disappointed at the lack of diversity as he was walking around campus. We are currently experiencing a world this big, he said as he held out his hands so that they were about a foot apart. With more diversity on campus, we could be experiencing a world this big, holding out his hands so that they were five feet apart.

Diversifying the campus might not be easy, it might not be pretty, and it is not fun to acknowledge our own racism, but it is essential.

We are missing out on valuable perspectives not only because our student body is predominantly white, but also because our curriculum is predominantly white.

At Warren Wilson, students can skirt the issue of race (and the issues of ethnicity, gender, class, sexual orientation and more), by refusing to engage in this type of thinking, by the classes they choose, in the conversations they engage in and in the people they interact with. As students, we need to be challenged to think about race, gender, class, sexuality, religion, regardless of our discipline or field of study. A proper liberal arts education should challenge us in these ways and should provide us with tools to address these issues. But Monday’s incident has made me think that Warren Wilson has fallen short in doing this.


9 Responses to “A Cruel Joke or An Institutional Failure?”

  1. thank you for this.

    Posted by alum | November 21, 2013, 5:11 am
  2. I just wanted to say that I was very pleased to read “A Cruel Joke or An Institutional Failure.” Besides being well written I think it brought up some very important points. There is the obvious fact that this act is hurtful to many of our students. However, I feel like it has broader implications. Although having a ceremony against hate was very nice and a moving symbol of our togetherness, more steps need to be taken. The fact is that we aren’t as a diverse of a school as we should be. Culturally, economically, and ethnically we are quite homogenous. I feel that it is not enough to say that racism is bad. Warren Wilson needs to “walk the walk.” Increasing our minority and international student population will enhance everyone’s worldview and will make for a richer learning environment in general. Micah, you hit the nail on the head. Discussions need to be had! I found the piece moving and on the right track. Keep up the good work!

    Posted by Luca Bicchieri | November 22, 2013, 3:10 pm
  3. I had a =REAL= hate crime committed against me that ruined the entire world. I have a genius IQ, that has been mocked my entire life by everybody, over the IQ of Einstein, and God didn’t give it to me so that I could have a hate crime committed against me, have it covered up by what looks to be everybody considering the shame and disgrace thats OBVIOUS and weighs NATURALLY on a conscience (Not FORCEFULLY weighs on it like you’re trying to do! ehem!), have the people who committed the violation to be publicized as people who are heroes against that “kind of thing” and have my college career studying morality heinously cut off so that your school’s administration didn’t have to deal with a whistleblower. And YOU want to talk about DISGRACE? YOU’RE A DISGRACE. I’ve contacted you and others at Warren Wilson about this since this has occurred and nobody even mentioned this KKK-Tree thing when I kept describing what happened to me as a hate crime. Is that because Warren Wilson, the top private liberal arts college in the nation, doesn’t know what a hate crime really is? It’s when a PERSON is HURT INTENTIONALLY AND HATEFULLY AND PERSONALLY. NOT AS A GROUP. You’re a writer; ney, a journalist, and you have difficulty understanding basic definitions and morality. You will continue to be a disgrace to the earth, to Warren Wilson, to the future, and to yourself until you ACTUALLY write about a REAL hate crime and stop covering it up by writing about a FAKE one just so you can feel important and a victim of a hate crime can feel neglected and ignored.

    Posted by Benjamin Webb | June 9, 2014, 5:56 pm
  4. I was beat up and called a faggot four years ago. The administration blamed me without any evidence. Campus Police literally chased me out of the county. They misled my parents into thinking I was making this up. I was outspoken, politically active, and incredibly courageous in terms of both research and action. The school is an Environmental Studies school, the ENS department is employed by Chemtronics, Chemtronics is owned by Halliburton. Chemtronics is where they first manufactured agent orange and is intimately tied in with the military industrial complex. The CEO of Halliburton is Dick Cheney. W. Bush’s great grandfather funded Hitler and the Nazis. You all directly fund the nazis. And you think you are protesting against them without acknowledging this? You and the rest who are being kept blind or blinding yourself are spending money at Bush’s theme park to ride the rollercoaster of helpless bleeding heart. You all must be more intelligent about everything or else all the reasons why you all went there (environmental and social causes) are doomed because of being under the guise of the very people you protest. (You all look a little like the Nazis pets, not the Nazis worst nightmare).

    Posted by Benjamin Webb | June 9, 2014, 6:05 pm
  5. Some of your peers who currently attend have called me a racist, said they broke into my computer, then called me white, called me white priveleged and sticking my nose where it doesnt belong, said they wanted to keep me from a career (specifically at the head is Khaetlyn Grindell). They did this on top of the hate crime of being called a faggot and beat up a few years ago. Now I’m guessing those same ones are priding themselves on “stopping this kind of thing.” The real thing happened. There’s evidence. There’s a report. There’s everything saying it happened except the “community,” that strange and nebulous term considering I’ve demonstrated how top-down all the decisions are being made for you. I love Warren Wilson. It’s incredibly dear to my heart, and I do believe in its heart and community of people and spirits and ideas. It hurts so much that this community has turned its back on me and speaks loudly about all of this….

    I understand you’re not bad people and whatever. I just am so brokenhearted by this. Having a hate crime done to you is so jarring. I’m sorry if anything I’ve said is unexpected or disturbs comfort zones or whatever, but I’ve been bawling the past week about this and losing my kids because of what warren wilson did to me. My wife didn’t want anything to do with me after this hate crime happened to me. I have already attempted suicide, but I don’t see how the society and people I’m surrounded by and the decisions their currently making won’t lead to personal disaster…and none of its my fault, and I’ve talked to everyone I can about this, and the only solution is for you and Warren Wilson to speak openly about what happened to me and let me back in. I am innocent. I never have hated anyone, never worked for myself, never assaulted or insulted anyone before that day. Since then its been in and out of institution after institution just because you all won’t talk about this and treat me like a human or fairly at all. I’m being murdered so your school can cover up a hate crime, now they are going on record as being against that…when its about a Tree. I’m a human being. My life has value.

    Posted by Benjamin Webb | June 9, 2014, 6:28 pm
  6. It’s no secret that there’s been some rather large changes at Warren Wilson in the past few years, especially in faculty and policy. There are a number of alumni that find the operation of Warren Wilson to be largely disrespectful of why they went to school and where the school was intending to go circa 2006 when the new president, Sandy Pfeiffer, was instated. Pfeiffer and I had a number of public arguments/disagreements that I was rather famous among students for. I had been blessed by a shaman that showed me levitation and telepathy the summer before Pfeiffer’s stroke, and even prayed to the Great Spirit that night at that hour that his life be stripped of him for covering up the budget, funding Halliburton with students money instead of Sustainability & community projects. I told a girl that was a waitress for them normally downtown (Pfeiffer and trustees and faculty would eat downtown not at cafeteria, this was a political item that was brought up at SGA meetings), and may have mentioned that I said that to her. A year later I called their operation a farce in the chapel during a schoolwide meeting to “democratically” decide the way the school would be run, even though I knew of plans already fleshed out. When I had a hate crime committed against me and didn’t report it because I was visiting (under the RD’s approval), the school’s administration took the opportunity to forcibly terminate not only my career at Warren Wilson, but my life. My parents were illegally contacted by the school during this period and told them it would be best if I were “put in therapy,” not because I had a crime committed against me, but because they claimed without evidence or hearing my side of it at all that I was the danger. My parents had a month earlier forcibly separated my wife and I through malicious gossip seeing that my wife and I were trying to start not only a new family but a new future for the world. They work for the military visavis software production. The hospital my parents forced me into tried to kill my prostate as the first way to force me to take medication; I had just been trying and was still trying to have children with my wife. Both Warren Wilson and my parents work for the military information complex quite directly; my wife and I were far more politically active than most all of my peers, involved in the punk and activist scenes in Raleigh and Asheville respectively with acts that were well published in the papers. All of the sudden I dropped off the map, completely. They tried to erase me. Nobody at Warren Wilson did anything that I thought would, no news outlet replied or cared about how bizarre and newsworthy this situation is, no friend came to my aid. How does that happen?

    A number of Deans recommend I try my options at a different college. I didn’t want to go to college. My wife didn’t go to college. I went to Warren Wilson because it was different, and took responsibility and community as the most important priority, not just being another number. We weren’t in a long distance relationship, she moved to Asheville. I’m not sure what kind of people can just say “oh well” to their entire upbringing and dreams and goals, internalize and dissolve a hate crime COMPLETELY on their own, and forget everything about well-being and health and the environment and people that was important to them previously. If I walked into one of their offices, beat them up, called them a bunch of hateful names, took their chair, and told them they can find another job, do you think I’d be a Warren Wilson administrator? Turns out that’s how it’s done! I had plans of becoming a Warren Wilson faculty member, specifically a professor…and having children. Instead of this I have been pushed into a cycle of trauma and sex and hate crimes being committed against me that all started that night and haven’t ended to this day. I’ve been raped, chased in the street by people calling me faggot and wanting to hurt me badly, threatened by monsters to shut up, framed for the crimes of others. None of this was expected of going out before that night. I have difficulty finding people that want to help me walk around because being a male victim in this country is unattractive, and everybody seems pretty obsessed with being picture perfect…but I get beat up, and I get charged by the police now all because of being called a faggot for wanting to have children and a college degree. Does anyone have a conscience anymore?

    Posted by Benjamin Webb | June 10, 2014, 1:22 am
  7. I went to Warren Wilson College in order to stop environmental/community waste from occurring then I get kicked out like this and go to Evergreen State in order to stop hate crimes from occurring. I experience a hate crime at Warren Wilson and get kicked out, then environmental and community waste (laziness, harassment, bullying stemming from lack of community ethics and work ethics) at Evergreen State and again am asked to leave, just for Warren Wilson & Evergreen State combined to treat me like one of the Wilson cows going to the slaughter in Washington state (a point I brought up many times during student government discussions as environmentally harmful and deceptive to the community). I’m not exactly sure how I’m supposed to feel. But I feel damn sure that if anyone’s insane here, it isn’t me. This is blatant abuse and mockery on a high level. Now it seems I won’t be able to stop either from happening because of people wanting to commit the atrocities are supported by the colleges in their hypocrisy. The world is not going to last much longer, says NASA, which is BTW my family’s pet project (see James Webb Telescope http://www.jwst.nasa.gov/, I’m Benjamin Webb), as well as my intuition, as well as many Wilson students. There is no way that I should have to pray and wait for Paula Garrett’s administration, that came in after I did, to leave the school in order for me to be respected academically and in terms of my free speech. Graduating college should not be political and survivalist strategem and symbolic sacrifice. This is insane.

    Posted by Benjamin Webb | June 10, 2014, 9:39 am
  8. The person carved this into the tree did that to let the world know that you work for the KKK as a school and student body. It’s not okay to try to take credit for what the carver did while simultaneously flipflopping justice and righteousness/morality.

    Posted by Your Conscience | June 30, 2014, 3:13 pm


  1. [...] Echo, the campus newspaper at Warren Wilson College, on the “KKK” issue in the tree here; and on the proposal to cut the business [...]

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