The reason for the gathering was in itself not the happiest of occasions: an act of intolerant vandalism by one misanthrope earlier in the semester. When a group of students, faculty members and administrators met to consider a response, we discussed several options, from seminars to workshops to speeches, before determining that the most important thing was to produce a show of unity. We decided that a candlelight vigil, to accompany tonight’s campus screening of the moving documentary The Anatomy of Hate: A Dialogue For Hope, would be a powerful statement against intolerance.
The Anatomy of Hate seeks to understand what drives humans to hate one another and examines different agents of intolerance. Among those the film examines is the Westboro Baptist Church, a fringe group known for its protests at military funerals and its antagonistic homophobia. The group threatened to stage a protest at Hamilton on the date of the screening, which had the effect of energizing the student body in an impressive way. The thinking was that the vigil, which would culminate with participants marching across campus with candles, would be the perfect sign of unity, sending a strong message to the Westboro protesters about the values of this community. The Westboro protesters never show, but the possibility mobilizes the campus. When we depart the Chapel, there are some 400 walking in lockstep toward Kirner-Johnson.
Life at Hamilton is busy. Everyone has commitments. So to have hundreds put aside everything else they were doing to show that this community could stand together is not something I take for granted. It may seem like a cliché, but the moment truly makes me proud to be a member of Hamilton’s community. The image of hundreds silently walking along Martin’s Way, darkness obscuring everything but resilient flames, is something that I won’t soon forget.