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

19 comments

  • Disclaimer: I am not a republican, I think that Trump is a truly terrible person and a demagogue, I do not support white supremacy, and I support most of what this author is saying about taking racist incidences more seriously.

    With that being said, there are some troubling elements of this article. No student or person on or off this campus should feel unsafe because of their religion, political belief, race, gender or sexual orientation. Obviously, that is something that should not even have to be said. A person with a MAGA hat should not have to be worried about someone assaulting them and stealing their ridiculous hat, just as a person of color shouldn’t feel unsafe because of disgusting racist graffiti. These are not mutually exclusive ideas/principles. People are entitled to express their views. That is the plain and simple fact of it. Just as someone who comes to campus and says I am going to burn in hell for doing any one of the million sinful things is protected in their free speech. I can hate it, I can fundamentally disagree with it, but that person does not deserve any better or worse treatment and a crime against them should have equal attention.

    However, racism, discrimination and prejudice can’t be tolerated on campus. Plain and simple. We do not know if someone writing racist graffiti is also targeting or intimidating students of color, and those incidences should be taken more seriously and addressed seriously.

    The point of issue is the author is playing down the incident and in some parts even appears to justify the crime. That is very troubling mentality to have and be promoted in a school newspaper.

  • Very proud of you. Your message well taken, I hope.

  • Someone is assaulted on campus, probably because of openly supporting Trump. Police helps, local newspaper complains they helped too much.

    It sounds to me like openly supporting Trump on campus is dangerous. If I supported him, after this incident I would be afraid to admit it . We should be concerned that our campus violently oppresses political views, and try better to have open discussions where opposing ideas are given a fair review and criticism. This isn’t what is happening. We are students at an academic institution. We should start acting like it.

  • You can’t say the hat is symbolic rather than literal and then throw in that it’s $10 on Amazon. I mean you can, but it’s clearly a biased piece of writing.

  • The MAGA hat is a great teaching tool for conservatives. The ridicule and negative responses that they are getting are called microagressions. Now they know how marginalized groups of people feel when they experience the same type of thing. MAGA hat people should think about that when they make insensitive comments about immigrants, LGBT folks, or whoever else

    • It sounds like you are trying to justify aggressively targeting someone because of their political expressions.

      It won’t work, by the way. Hate always leads to more hate. You say they started then stop it.

    • It sounds like you are trying to justify targeting people because of their political expressions.

      By the way, it doesn’t work. Hate only breeds more hate. You say they started it, stop it.

      • IS there a difference between a MAGA hat and the robes and hats of KuKluxKlan? Is wanting to lynch the same as lynching?

  • If Western does not have an Action Committee comprised of administrators and minority groups , it’s about time these task forces are created. As Dr King said, ” Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Eldridge Cleaver also spoke truth when he said, “There is no more neutrality in the world. You either have to be part of the solution, or you’re going to be part of the problem.”

  • The writing on the hat is irrelevant. Its theft was a strong-arm-robbery which is a class-A felony. Graffiti is also a crime but much less serious. Again the message is irrelevant. WWU’s campus is vandalized by new graffiti almost every day and most of it is stupid and offensive.

    • Vandalism with racial slurs is less serious than someone taking a hat? You’re so dense lmao, just say you’re racist and go.

  • Just because a guy has a maga hat on in a liberal campus doesn’t make it acceptable to rob him.

    People with maga hats aren’t threatening to you, but in fact you are more threatening to them. This article is just perpetuating violence against conservatives on campus.

    • Liam- as opposed to the mass amounts of violence that conservatives have inflicted upon minorities throughout history???

    • I think this is kind of missing the point. Even if we disregard what the hat represents (which I think would be a mistake), it was still just a hat taken off someone’s head. When bikes or other objects are stolen, we don’t get Western Alerts about it. But when Wright’s Triangle was vandalized, or the issue earlier this year with the student writing homophobic and racist threats on other students dorms and still being allowed to be on campus without Western Alerts, the clear difference in what is considered a “serious threat” on campus is apparent. The issue is the insensitivity of campus administration when comparing the intensity of a hat being taken versus threatening and violent vandalism.

      • @Graham, nice strawman, I don’t know how past violence justifies violence against a guy in a MAGA hat.

        @Leo The difference between bikes getting stolen and this dudes hat is it was a strong arm robbery, not just a theft.

        Violence on campus is unacceptable.

        • @liam, I dont think anyone is saying violence is acceptable. It sounded more like the other commenter was simply saying that all incidents which pose a threat to students (including racist and homophobic graffiti) should warrant the same strength and speed with which the university responded here.

        • The article is about the amount of response against each crime.

          Anti-Semitic vandalism was treated as lesser to the theft of a hat that represents hate of minorities, POC, and LGBTQ.

          That’s the biggest crime.

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