With all the coverage and virulent commentary on SHOCC, Bwog decided to talk with SHOCC member Anthony Walker to find out what the organization really stands for.

B&W: Your web site defines a hate crime as, “any and all forms of speech, writing, literature, or expression that stereotypes, marginalizes, denigrates, and isolates an individual or group based on an aspect of his or her identity. Hate crimes challenge an individual or group’s sense of self, safety, and belonging within their community. Hate crimes on campus deny the safe space to which all members of a university are entitled. Hate crimes on campus make Columbia a dangerous place to be.”

When a hate incident is defined by anything that may be considered offensive to someone’s identity, doesn’t that make it possible to censor any speech at all?

Walker: I don’t actually feel 100% confident answering this question for the group. I am by no means an expert in hate speech, and I wouldn’t want to say something or represent the group’s stance in a manner that isn’t absolutely accurate. I will say this though: the actions that SHOCC has protested and responded to this year are clearly instances of hate crimes. The question of what constitutes free speech in the instances of “hate” that we stand strongly against are not at all ambiguous or arguably an exercise of freedom of speech. I definitely agree with you and think that SHOCC would agree as well. The aim of the group is not to censor dissenting opinions or unpopular beliefs; our aim is to make our campus a safe and inviting space in which we all feel comfortable. This might not be exactly what you were looking for, but I hope I brought some clarity to the issue.

A lot of people are troubled by SHOCC’s tactics. The name alone suggests that its methods are confrontational, and necessarily in opposition to the administration. Given that you’ve had a number of recent successes, do you believe Bollinger and the Columbia community are necessarily opposed to diversity?

I’ve heard this criticism a lot– that SHOCC’s methods are confrontational, but I think when you look more deeply at the tactics we are using, they are not in the least bit confrontational. The three days of action that took place last week involved an awareness campaign in the form of flyering and creating “safe space” circles on Low Plaza. I found the “safe space” circles to be extremely creative because in a sense it became a visual representation of what we are asking from the administration, a more safe and inclusive campus. What gets lost in the way that this campaign has been editorialized is that while all of this direct action is taking place, the group is still constantly in meetings with administrators to work through these issues. The direct action we have decided to take is a direct response to our feeling ignored and further marginalized by the administration’s decision to ignore our concerns. We do not stand in direct opposition to the administration and understand that we need the allied support of the administration to see the better Columbia we envision to take form. We recognize and appreciate the recent successes we’ve had with the administration but realize that there is yet much work to be done. The University is not opposed to diversity– we find that it is simply a matter of priority and working on a different timeline. SHOCC is pushing to accelerate that timeline and do it in a way that will be beneficial to the entire student body but focuses on moving students generally pushed towards the margins towards the center of debate. I think the strength of the name speaks to the seriousness of the group and the dedication we have to eradicating the persistence of hate on our campus.

Following up on the last question, what is anti-oppression training? It seems like the vast majority of students here, minority and not, really support diversity on campus (although, as a white male, I could be misreading this). Am I unwittingly oppressing you?

I think this is a good question and one of the demands that is met with the most hesitation from community members. I think what turns people off is the phrasing “anti-oppression” training which leads many to believe that the focus is on reforming the oppressive masses to be more understanding of minority students’ concerns- that is not the aim of the proposed training. The name of the training is not important, we as a group are more concerned about the substance of the training. Anti-oppression, diversity, whatever… but what we really envision this training to deal with is addressing the power of privilege and understanding what it is like to be a member of a marginalized community. Diversity training usually takes the form of a session targeted at being tolerant of our differences and proves to be extremely ineffective. I think what we would really like to see is a training that engages everyone to understand how one can receive unrealized benefits due to the color of their skin, the socioeconomic status they were born into, their sexual orientation, their religious beliefs, etc. These are things that all people need to understand and work on, marginalized and majority alike. It’s not about finger-pointing and labeling people as oppressors– it’s about creating a culture of being understanding and aware of our differences to create a community that knows how to engage comfortably and respectfully with one another.

What, for SHOCC, would constitute a more balanced core curriculum? What would you add (and why) and what you drop (and why)? Specificity would really be appreciated. Also, since we can’t study every culture, western or non-western, which cultures would you select from (and again, why)?

This actually may be one of the biggest confusions about what we are advocating be done to the core– it’s not really about adding or dropping as much as it’s about changing the manner in which it is taught to be more inclusive of other cultures. A more balanced core curriculum would not take a massive overhaul, and that is not what we’re advocating for. The core is western civilization 101, and there is no problem with that, as long as it acknowledges the cross-cultural exchange that took place and does not give only western culture credit for advancements in thought, the arts, and politics. We think that this is extremely important because it sets up a dichotomy of all other cultures being inferior to western civilization.

What do you think of the matzo-swastika incident, and what should be done in response?

It’s really unfortunate that these types of incidents continue to persist on our campus. I think it just speaks to the very culture that SHOCC is trying to change. In the absence of being able to identify the perpetrators I really feel that education around these issues is the only way to really respond. Yes, the university should take a stance against this incident verbally, but that also needs to be backed up by some show of support in the form of an awareness forum. This is happening all too frequently.

Why do you think criticism against SHOCC has been so virulent, and do you think most people on campus agree with you? Are most white/straight/general majority students consciously or unconsciously racist?

I think that criticism of SHOCC has been so virulent because people don’t have a clear understanding of exactly what the group stands for. That is partially the fault of the group, but some responsibility has to be placed with the community as well. Our meetings are open. We hand out pamphlets to any and everyone willing to take one. I won’t make a guesstimate on whether or not most people agree with the aims of the group, because I believe that most people sincerely have little understanding of our concerns. I don’t at all believe that most white/straight/general majority students are racist consciously or unconsciously, but I do believe that it is unfortunate for one, let alone six, racist incidents to occur on our campus. Who is to say that the perpetrators are all white/straight/general majority students? The aim of SHOCC is targeted at making this a campus that all people feel safe and comfortable as members of. Our goals transcend race and the changes we would like to see implemented though would affect most noticeably marginalized students, they would be beneficial for all. Its also important to notice that racism is not the driving force of this movement, hate is.

Bwog sez: Walker answered our questions with honesty and respect. We expect the same from the comments.