Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

Shedding light on community

Luminarias line the campus for the annual Vespers concertIn November, Leslie Gould ’15 sat at a table in Balfour-Hood with markers, methodically coloring a white paper bag with wide stripes of purple, green and orange. It was a simple decorative act, but it carried a powerful message: Wheaton is about diversity, community and acceptance of all.

The bag was one of 1,200 luminarias used to line the campus for the annual Vespers concert. Each year, Student Activities, Involvement & Leadership and Residential Life collaborate to place luminarias for the evening event.

Decorated luminariasIn the past, the bags have been plain white. However, an incident last semester in which anti-Semitic graffiti was written at the Jewish Life House prompted resident advisors to add value to the luminaria experience this year by initiating a community-centered response.

Students, faculty and staff members were invited to share the importance of community and respect by personalizing the luminarias. They responded in a big way—more than 400 bags were decorated with art and varied messages of love, respect and unity.

“When bad things like this happen, Wheaton does a really good job to make sure that everyone’s voice is heard and that everyone feels as safe as possible,” said Gould, who is a resident advisor and a Student Government Association senator.

Taking the lead in fostering an inclusive environment, President Ronald A. Crutcher has charged the President’s Action Committee on Inclusive Excellence (PACIE)—a long-standing group that includes students, faculty and staff—with recommending ways to most effectively maintain a focus on appreciating and celebrating differences.

“There is no room for bias, hatred and prejudice on this campus,” said Crutcher. “Instead, this college should be, and will be, a place where every individual feels safe and respected. Each of us has a role to play in creating and sustaining this kind of community.”

The New England Anti-Defamation League commended the president for immediately making it clear that acts of hate will not be tolerated.

Other responses also have taken place on campus or are being planned:

More than 600 people turned out to express their concern during an emotional town hall meeting held in Cole Memorial Chapel.

A group of students started a Facebook-based “We are Wheaton. We are equal.” campaign that featured people holding a whiteboard with those words.

A community celebration was held in the Dimple at the start of Hanukkah.

The Student Government Association, in collaboration with faculty members, is considering a daylong teach-in.

“We really want to educate students and bring awareness to the community at large,” said Randy Frazer ’13, SGA vice president. “We’re hoping to show students that diversity is fluid and that we don’t need to come together as a community only when we have a problem.”