'We Are Elon' unites campus at College Coffee
Elon Hillel asked students on Tuesday to take a stand when they hear or see others make intolerant or hateful comments that disregard the cherished values of Elon University’s inclusive community.
Isolated acts of bias and discrimination can occur on college campuses, but Elon University's student body - characterized by its diversity of race, religion, gender and sexual orientation - delivered a message Tuesday morning to those who even joke about hateful words or symbols: We're proud of who we are and won't tolerate your behavior.
It wasn't so much of a threat as it was a promise sealed in blue and black and red ink.
By the end of College Coffee, countless thumbprints and signatures adorned a "We Are Elon" banner that Elon Hillel created in symbolic defiance of behaviors that target individuals because of their beliefs or the color of their skin or the people they love. Organizers also distributed hundreds of red "We Are Elon" rubber wristbands at the Sept. 24 event.
Hillel's executive officers teamed with other student leaders on campus to host the initiative, and two students - sophomore Alli Ginsburg, the Shabbat coordinator with Hillel, and junior Brenda Reavis, who serves as the executive intern for diversity in the Multicultural Center - addressed their classmates from the front of Phi Beta Kappa Plaza.
“When you hear a joke, a slur, a threat, it is up to you to let your friend know that what they are saying is unacceptable, and why,” Ginsburg said. “Do not let a stranger feel victimized because you refuse to speak up. Be known as a person who is inclusive to all. Make your community aware that you will not tolerate intolerance.
“This is the only way we will truly create an environment of inclusion – no all-campus message or lesson, but person to person, through connections we already have. Don’t be afraid to call each other out.”
Reavis offered similar sentiments while challenging her audience to ask how individuals will use their voices to make a difference in the face of adversity. No one deserves a college experience characterized by fear of injustice, she said, and she called on the crowd to ban together to confront intolerance.
“We are not a campus of indifference, we are a campus of acceptance,” Reavis said. “We are a campus that bands together in the face of discrimination and injustice and fights for change. We are a campus that works best as one. It’s the differences among us that create a university of uniqueness. It is the diversity of our experiences that shape what Elon is, and who we will continue to be.
“Everywhere we go, we are Elon. We carry the Honor Code with us through every second of the day. As students it’s our job to make sure that each person feels like they belong here, and that they’re being heard.”
Elon University President Leo M. Lambert praised the "We Are Elon" organizers in an email message delivered to the full campus community shortly after College Coffee. In it, he offered support and gratitude to the students "who stand with me in support of Elon's Honor Code: honesty, integrity, responsibility and respect."
He also asked anyone who sees or experiences disrespect to speak out, and should a person find himself or herself the target of intolerant behaviors, to use the university's new reporting system for alerting those who are ready to assist.
"You have heard me and other university leaders speak consistently and passionately against acts of disrespect and discrimination in our community," Lambert said. "The College Coffee initiative strongly demonstrates what we know to be true—that a community effort involving many voices is required to make a true impact and define a culture of inclusion, dignity and respect on our campus. This initiative is an important step forward in broadening support for this idea and helps set the tone for establishing standards that everyone embraces."
For Nancy Luberoff, the director of Hillel at Elon University, what made the morning special was the conscious decision by students not to shy from identities that can be impugned by slurs, but to publicly embrace and celebrate those identities. Hurt and pain wasn't on display Tuesday morning, she said.
Only pride and strength.
"Silence in some ways is the most dangerous kind of discrimination, the most hurtful thing," Luberoff said in encouraging students to stand up for each other. "When you're a target of discrimination and hate, your natural instinct is to pull back, to protect yourself. This event says that we're not backing down."