Metro

Holy Cross cancels classes to hold summit on confronting hate, fostering tolerance

The facade of St. Joseph Memorial Chapel at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester.
Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff
The facade of St. Joseph Memorial Chapel at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester.

In the wake of an campus assault in which police say a student was targeted because of their sexual orientation, Holy Cross in Worcester is pausing all other activities Friday afternoon to focus on cultivating empathy.

A campuswide summit was organized by students and staffers after an Oct. 27 assault that has left the school shaken and compelled many students to take action. Participants of the “Engage Summit: Where Do We Go From Here?” will attend sessions of their choice on confronting hate on campus, and fostering inclusion and diversity.

“One of the goals for this event will not only be educating one another about our lived experience at Holy Cross,” said Meredith Coolidge, 21, a senior and co-president of the Student Government Association, “but also connecting administration and students and making sure those channels are opened and bridged.”

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Coolidge and SGA co-president Adrian Cacho said there was already a perception on campus that students of color and members of the LGBTQ community felt marginalized and unheard. The duo ran for office on a platform of transparency, inclusivity, endurance, and diversity.

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“We felt it was important [that] we got together to brainstorm ways that we as a community could move forward,” said Cacho, 21, also a senior. “Having these conversations is where that change begins. We need folks to acknowledge what is happening on campus, that these microaggressions or these hate crimes or these little things that add on to the bigger issues are present.”

From 1-4:30 p.m., students who go to the voluntary sensitivity summit will be encouraged to participate and listen to each other with open minds. This could mean a discussion on what it means to be transgender or how to confront racism, homophobia, transphobia, or sexism. There will be opportunities to write, create art, and reflect. At the end, attendees will come together to talk about how to create a more welcoming culture.

“I think it is our responsibility to make sure that as we are educating our students and ourselves that we become a force for a different kind of interaction in the world,” Holy Cross provost Margaret Freije said. “That we become the force that actually makes it not acceptable to be drawing swastikas on desks and not acceptable to be treating each other in the ways that some people are treating each other, but that requires that we really re-double our efforts at that and really help our students to think about how do you engage across difference?”

In an e-mail, Phil Dardeno, the chair of the LGBTQ Alumni Network at Holy Cross and 2002 graduate of the Jesuit university, called it “distressing and disheartening to hear that a hate crime was reported at my alma mater, particularly in the wake of recent bias-based violence nationwide.”

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He said he felt encouraged by the response of the administration and students, including the holding of a campuswide vigil and an event by the English Department where community members read books by LGBTQ authors.

“Our organization was created to support LGBTQ alumni and students in order to foster education and dialogue around stigma and discrimination impacting our community,” Dardeno said. “In my conversations with the college administration, they have clearly stated that they recognize the work such a change requires and consider this only the beginning.”

Kazettie Colon, 19, a first-year student majoring in chemistry, said Holy Cross can be a bubble.

“My friend once made the remark that professors at Holy Cross are more accepting than the students,” Colon said. “I just hope there can be more conversations among students, that the administration can be held more responsible, and that people feel accepted, not ignored.”

Cristela Guerra can be reached at cristela.guerra@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @CristelaGuerra.