KING5 coverage of student reactions to at least five incidents of hate speech at Bellevue College since January.
As a young woman of color, hate speech and discrimination are definitely not new to me.
Back in elementary school, my classmates and i didn’t care about the color of each others’ skin or what we looked like — we just had a good time playing tag together and fighting over whose turn it was on the swings. But starting in middle school, I began to grasp the discrimination facing me and my fellow peers of color — and it only got worse in high school.
So I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I got the opportunity to spend my last two years at a Bellevue College as part of the Running Start program.
During my junior year, as a shy and silent 16-year-old, I took a class taught by Kimberly Pollock called “Race in the U.S.” The class changed my worldview. It taught me that my struggle, experiences and feelings are 100% valid, and are shared by other people of color.
That’s why I’m so disappointed now, two years later, to learn there have been several instances of hate speech on the Bellevue College campus, specifically towards LGBTQ students and Muslim students. Worse yet, the incidents were reported as far back as January, but students were never informed by the administration that they had happened.
Now, despite outcry from the LGBTQ and Muslim students who were the specific targets of the hate speech, as well as from students of color and their allies, Bellevue College still has taken little action.
“My identity has always been a part of my life. It is not an identity I chose to have, but it is definitely an identity that I am glad to have,” said Astrid Quintanilla, a Running Start student has been among those targeted. “A lot of the issues that we face as queer people are normalized in society. There is an empathy deficit — people sympathize but cannot really put themselves in your shoes — they do not understand.”
This is where the newly formed Bellevue College Students United (BCSU) comes in, to take a stand against hate and discrimination. We are a diverse group of students, dedicated to make a change for ourselves and future students. We will not take the hate crimes any longer.
What starts as anti-LGBTQ and Islamophobic graffiti can easily escalate. Once a perpetrator sees that they can get away with one thing, they may go further with their hatred.
“After hearing about the hate speech continuing on since January, I felt unsafe,” said Maryam Hussain, one of the founders of the group. “BCSU formed after a group of Muslim and LGBTQ students noticed the lack of action and transparency coming from the administration.”
“A lot of the response was pretty much a pat on the head and a shove out the door,” said Quintanilla, describing initial meeting with the president, dean and other higher ups. “It’s like ‘oh thats nice’ they listen to us bear our souls, some people got choked up and and were big really honest. But if we aren’t being aggressive, we aren’t being heard.”
If the administration does not take action, we will.
Nobody should go to school fearing for their life, or feeling threatened. Everyone has the right to an education and to not be targeted because of their race, religion, or how they identify. Never. People should be allowed to express themselves and feel safe on campus. Until then, we will continue to push for change.
The BCSU is working in solidarity with other student groups on the campus like the Black Student Union, International Student Association, African Student Association and EL Centro Latino.
In our group meeting last Tuesday, we formulated and perfected a specific list of demands, which have been sent out to administrators, faculty, staff and local news outlets. Another public meeting is set to be held tomorrow, May 24th with the president and other administrators.
Growing up my parents warned me that the world would sometimes treat me differently because of the way I look — but that I was the only one who had the right to truly define myself.
But it was teachers and fellow students at Bellevue College that made me more racially aware, culturally sensitive and less afraid to call out acts of discrimination and hate.
Now I hope the college will live up to that standard and start to take these hate crimes seriously.
To stay updated on response to hate speech at Bellevue College, you can follow BCSU on Facebook and Twitter. You can sign the petition in support of there demands to the Bellevue College administration here.