Warning: This article contains language that some will find offensive.
In an email sent to the campus community on Oct. 28, 2021, President Elizabeth Davis reported two bias incidents that occurred in South Housing. Davis condemned the “anti-LGBTQIA+ slurs and discriminatory comments,” which were written on a white board “during the past couple of weeks.” The email provided further Furman resources for students - such as Furman Pride Alliance, the Counseling Center, and the Office of Spiritual Life, among others - in addition to online support organizations beyond campus. However, the impact of these bias incidents weighs heavily on one first-year student.
One first-year student, who wishes to remain anonymous, shared their experiences with discriminatory messages over this semester. The anti-LGBTQ+ comments were written on a whiteboard hanging on the door of their South Housing dorm room. The first messages appeared over Labor Day weekend, Sep. 4-6. “Someone wrote ‘I’m gay’ and ‘gross’ on my white board,” the student explained. “I just brushed it off as ignorant.”
The next message, however, felt more pointed. ‘I hate gays’ was written over the weekend of Fall Break (Oct. 9-12). This encouraged the first-year student to share their experiences with Furman Pride Alliance, who encouraged her to complete Furman’s bias incident report. The student was contacted by members of the administration a couple days later to set up a meeting to discuss the situation.
Reporting the incident did not stop the hateful messages. Either late in the evening of Oct. 22 or early in the morning of Oct. 23, the student received a message that made them feel unsafe. “In the middle of the night, somebody shoved my door. When I opened the door the next morning, they had written 'dyke'. It was the first time I felt unsafe,” she explained. “This felt like I was being targeted.”
Through the help of Furman Pride Alliance, two professors reached out to the student, both by offering emotional support and following up on the investigation. Rod Kelley, Assistant Dean of Student Conduct, and Melissa Nichols, Title IX and ADA/Section 504 Coordinator, met with the student to discuss next steps. This allowed the student to tailor the campus announcement from Davis to her comfort level, in addition to offering housing options and discussing potential educational resource programming for their peers.
The student believes that sharing her experience will help others to empathize, and that further educational programming will help decrease ignorance of the use of anti-LGBTQIA+ language. “This has really taken a toll on my overall wellbeing, mentally, emotionally, and physically,” they explained. “I don’t want this to happen to anybody else.”
Kelley shared that a dorm white board should be a place for “fun self-expression,” but unfortunately people’s “sense of accountability goes out the door when anonymity is at play.” Kelley shared that although the intent of these messages may not have been to harm, Furman is focused on addressing the impact of these statements. Kelley explained how this conviction is seen in the email from Davis, which emphasized intentional communication and “how our actions can have an effect on others.”
Chief John Milby, head of the Furman University Police Department, shared that the investigation into the perpetrator(s) of these bias incidents is ongoing. “Sharing details now could compromise [the investigation].” Kelley spoke to community involvement in the investigation: “if community members have seen direct engagement in this incident, or heard about it from someone else, do not take a passive role… inaction can be just as harmful as the act itself.”
Any information regarding this investigation should be directed to Furman University Police Department, either through the LifeSafe App or by calling 864.294.2111.