Hate Free Week encourages acceptance of differences

By Teresa Sewell

It frustrates Crystal Verdun, the resident director of Illinois Street Residence Hall, when she hears students use racial slurs, express dislike toward a person because of sexuality, or use other forms of hate on campus.

She has nothing against people expressing themselves on places like the Quad, but she is worried for those who are hurt by the comments or feel like they have nowhere to fight against them.

“Some people go on the Quad and they have a message that they want to give, but it can be hateful and harmful to the community,” Verdun said. “A lot of students don’t have an outlet or a place to process this. We need a way to combat that.”

Verdun and a committee of others found a way.

Last year, the Hate Free Committee started Anti-Hate Week, which was created to give the campus a way to discuss differences among students. Changing its name to Hate Free Week this year, the program continues to promote understanding of different cultures and backgrounds.

“You’re on a new campus,” Verdun said. “You might see people from backgrounds you’ve never seen before and you need a way to process that. This week is to help expose and embrace differences. It’s about loving people for who they are.”

Verdun said another important part of the week is discussing racial issues other than black and white, which people tend to focus on.

“Black and white are on two opposite ends of the spectrum,” she said. “We are leaving out so many people in between.”

There will be “Lunch and Learns,” a free event where students have lunch while listening to a guest lecturer, at the Asian American Cultural Center, African-American Cultural Center and La Casa Cultural Latina.

Even though the week focuses heavily on race, there will be other discussions.

“Transamerica,” a film about a transsexual woman, will be played for free at the Illini Union Courtyard Caf‚ Tuesday at 7 p.m.

Paul Richardson, senior in LAS and the only student on the committee, offered his insight.

“The self-segregation (on campus) has always bothered me,” Richardson said. “And it’s not just race. Race is only part of it.”

He said many students tend to congregate, whether they notice or not, only with people whom they are familiar with.

Instead of recognizing differences, they prevent understanding each other by only socializing with people of the same fraternity, race, major and other categories, he added.

“We come to the University, it’s new and we don’t know anyone,” Richardson said. “So we go to what’s comfortable and familiar and that’s almost always, what is similar to ourselves. I think it’s a natural trend.”

He is excited to see how students will react to the “Race Machine,” an exhibit at the Illini Union Art Gallery that allows anyone to see how they would look as a different race.

The machine also shows how people’s children will look.

“Wow,” Joel Sigle, a visiting student from Dundee, Ill. said as he watched himself turn from white to Middle Eastern. “This is pretty high tech.”

Although he felt the machine was a bit “stereotypical,” he said the machine answers questions someone may have about race.

Verdun hopes the campus takes the week seriously and comes out to at least one event.

“It’s a way for the campus community to come together and really confront hate and celebrate differences,” Verdun said. “And we can’t do that without the whole community.”