After reading the articles in the Fall/Winter issue of the Bulletin ("Hello, Columbus?"), I am again impressed by the Bulletin's high caliber as an alumni magazine.
It is disheartening to see sprawl reaching out around Mount Vernon and everywhere else. To devote an issue of the Bulletin to this inescapably pressing topic, using Knox County as focus and example, underscores the College's concern for its broader community.
I am lucky to live in New York's Adirondack Park, a unique mix of public and private land the size of Connecticut, with a constitutionally guarded "forever wild" Forest Preserve as well as density and land-use zoning on its private lands. These are some of the strongest regional land protections in the world, yet we too are being nibbled at by Wal-Mart, strip malls, and quite tasteful second-home sprawl.
The bottom-line conflict is a finite global habitat with an ever-increasing human population and its needs and wants. This contradiction has begun to eat into the quality of life for all species and cannot go on indefinitely.
I feel that a significant piece of an enlightened and humane culture, as that grown by Kenyon, must lead us not only to keen intellectual insight and achievement but also to the foresight and compassion to say "Enough!" to ourselves. Having come as far as we have as a species, to limit our numbers and material wants could be the ultimate civilized stewardship of the planet. To want more than two offspring, or some bauble or many, yet to not pursue those, can be a defining moment of where we as conscientious human beings probably need to be now and in the years to come.
Thanks very much for showing concern about near and far beyond the Hill, for discussing this gristly issue, and for pointing to some possible amelioration of it.
David Thomas-Train '73
Keene Valley, New York
A death in Wyoming
Editor's note: The following letter to the editor was received from G. Taylor Johnson '83, who teaches European history to ninth graders at Flint Hill School in Oakton, Virginia. He previously taught for four years at The American School in Switzerland (TASIS) in Lugano, Switzerland, where the late Matthew Shepard was a student for two of those four years. Johnson, who came to know Shepard well through their interactions in the classroom and on campus, originally wrote this letter as a speech for a school assembly.
On October 6, 1998, a college student in Laramie, Wyoming, was beaten so badly that his skull was fractured and pushed in right to the brain stem. His face was so badly disfigured you could hardly tell who he was, and most of his ribs were broken. He was then tied, spread-eagle, to a fence and left to die. Eighteen hours later, he was found by a bicyclist, who at first thought he was looking at a scarecrow. After days in a coma in hospital, the young man died. People all around the nation protested this heinous act of violence toward another human being though candlelight vigils and peaceful marches. If you know this much of the story then you probably also know that the young man was homosexual, because that is why he was beaten. You may even know that his name was Matthew Shepard.
You know, then, as much as I knew at that time, except that I did not know the young man's name. To me, it was another horrible act of violence in a place very far away. Imagine my horror, dismay, and even guilt when I learned the young man's name and realized he had been a student at a small boarding school in Lugano, Switzerland, where I had been a teacher.
Suddenly, this was a very personal matter. I had taught Matthew at that school, I had traveled with him, eaten meals with him, watched his drama performances, and supervised his dormitory. Matt was an incredibly nice person, one who went out of his way to help others. At the time of his death, he was taking courses that would help him prepare for a career in public service. He once said that all he wanted to do was to make another person's life better. Matt had a wonderful wit and quick sense of humor, and he made friends easily.
I attended the Shepard family's memorial service for Matt in Casper, Wyoming, where I expected to be bombarded by anti-gay protestors. Instead, I was overwhelmed by the love and support of the local community and all the other people at the funeral. More than a thousand people were there to show their support for the family and their disapproval of such a crime. Fifteen of my former students and another former teacher of Matt's flew in from all over the world. One young man in New Jersey had heard the story of Matt's death and gotten into his car to drive for three days to attend the funeral. The positive message of this experience stirred in me the desire to take action to make sure the story did not end there.
In my mind, there are two aspects to the horror of this crime. The first is that Matt was beaten because, as the media said, "he was openly gay." While Matt did not try to hide the fact he was gay, he certainly did not flaunt it, and he did not try to "convert" anyone. I find it reprehensible that a human being could be killed just because he or she is homosexual and terrifying that any individual or group could decide to end the life of another person just because that person is gay--or Albanian or Croatian, Armenian or Turkish, Black or Hispanic, Catholic or Protestant, Democrat or Republican, Jewish or Muslim, pro-choice or pro-life. Even more worrisome to me than this one crime is the fact that this type of crime is increasing in frequency.
I believe the roots of this growing violence must lie in our interaction with each other on a daily basis and whether or not we condone small derogatory or prejudiced statements or actions. People who get away with small negative statements or actions gradually build to greater ones; the damage done affects everyone. In the Quaker faith, there is a belief that each person has within her or him a small spark of divinity. Thus, any attack against another person is an attack against the sacredness of that divine spirit. Others have said that an attack against the dignity and humanity of one individual is an attack against the whole community. A Nassau County, New York, police chief was recently quoted as saying, "Every citizen loses something every time a bias crime is committed. We lose the communal solidarity and mutual respect that are essential to a democracy and any community."
So, I ask you to join me in building a model community at work, home, church, or school, one that is not tolerant of actions or comments that are racially biased, homophobic, derogatory towards any group, or prejudicial in any way towards another person. I challenge everyone to see any such remarks as an attack against all of us, not just against some other person or group of people. Let us all choose our words carefully so that they are not injurious to others. I invite you to join me in a crusade of vigilance against prejudice and hatred.
A person is entitled to disagree with or dislike someone's actions, choices, lifestyle, or religion. That is human nature. And we would not want a homogenous population. But in a community, small or large, each member has a responsibility to protect other members. Each member has an obligation to help create an environment that is safe and tolerant of differences. Let us come together to support each other and, in so doing, grow richer through our diverse experiences.
G. Taylor Johnson '83
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