Opinion: A hat is just a hat, until it’s not
God, I wish this was a joke. Even if it isn’t a joke, it has a pretty good punchline. Here’s the set-up: a guy walks onto a liberal campus in a Make America Great Again hat. Sounds funny, right? Sounds like a joke you’d hear at open-mic night your freshman year, sitting with a bunch of people you only vaguely know in the Underground Coffeehouse.
The punchline: the university put more resources and time into finding someone who stole a hat than they did to remove the racist vandalism found on Wright’s Triangle fall quarter.
You could argue it’s just a hat, but it’s what the hat represents: again and again, our university has poured resources into supporting predominantly white communities who have been wronged. We saw it after seven books in the Jewish section of the library were repeatedly vandalized, when President Randhawa started an Antisemitism Task Force and held a re-shelving ceremony of over a hundred new books on Jewish history and culture. Following the racist vandalism in November of 2018, no vigil was organized by members of Western’s administration and no task force was created until over 200 students organized a sit-in in President Randhawa’s office.
The search for the hat thief lasted two hours; two University Police officers searched campus and the Sehome Arboretum. When the N-word was written on Wright’s Triangle, it took Facilities Management almost three hours to erase it, and it took nearly four hours to send out an alert about it. Hundreds of students walked past it before it was removed.
Western is failing our students of color, and in this instance specifically Black students, when we don’t take racist incidents as seriously as we do theft and petty crime.
According to Western’s policy, there are three levels to Western Alert messages. Western Alerts are sent when police have reason to believe there is a verifiable threat to the campus community. WWU Campus Advisories are sent in situations where there’s no immediate danger.
Information about the November vandalism was sent out as a WWU Campus Advisory. The hat theft was sent out as a Western Alert.
To many LGBTQ+ people, people of color and other members of marginalized communities, a MAGA hat in of itself is a verifiable threat. The fact that a stolen hat– which is $10 on Amazon– warranted a Western Alert, but a foot-tall scrawled racist epithet did not, is just another sick branch on a dying tree.
I get it. On paper, a robbery is more of a physical threat than vandalism. But when students tell you, with their voices and their actions, what the real threat is, you should listen to them. Who is more fit to define a threat to the community than the affected community itself?
By Julia Berkman
*Headline updated 4/6