Last year, on a Friday afternoon during Alumni Weekend, I was crying on a couch in the Gatehouse (The News-Letter office). I had just gotten off of a very upsetting phone call, and the Gatehouse was a safe space for me. It was somewhere I could cry and overcome whatever was going in my life.
That afternoon changed that. When I heard a knock on the metal door, I figured it was an alum who had been on The News-Letter. Sometimes, people who were on the paper come back and take a look at the old place and remember all the nights they spent there. So I was excited — maybe whoever was on the other side of that door would have some funny stories. Maybe they would put me in a better mood.
I opened the door, and a man who looked like he was in his 60s walked in holding a copy of The News-Letter. He asked me if I worked there, and I said yes.
Then he launched into a tirade. It was pure confusion, but from what I remember of the conversation, there was apparently an op-ed from the previous week’s issue that he was angry with. I didn’t even know which op-ed he was talking about.
Confused and upset, I collapsed back into the couch. He walked further into the room and stood over me, yelling the entire time.
“You people think you’re so smart, publishing this utter bullshit the week before alumni weekend so we won’t see it and we’ll still donate to your trash newspaper,” he said. “You’re trash. Worthless, you and all the sons of bitches who work here with you, trash. You can’t even stand up and defend yourself. Garbage, what a goddamn waste of space.”
He flung the paper onto the ground and left, slamming the door behind him.
I cried till I couldn’t breathe. And I called the “trash” people who work with me at The News-Letter. Within minutes, they came running. Breaking down almost after every sentence, I told them what had happened.
At their suggestion, we filed a complaint. Of course it amounted to nothing.
I suppose things were different back when that man attended Hopkins, and things will certainly be different when I come back here as a 60-year-old. But it’s hard to believe that I would come back here with that sense of entitlement — that sense that because I’m here donating money, I have a right to treat the students any way I want.
Maybe you felt disconnected from your campus and its students with their opinions that are different from yours were then or are now. Maybe you don’t think we deserve your money. Maybe we really don’t. But nothing gives you the right to dehumanize a student at your alma mater, to scream at her and call her trash.
Why do I bring this story up now? Recently, I saw a video making its rounds on Twitter of an alum yelling at a current student protesting at the Alumni Weekend breakfast. The alum questioned whether she was a student and told her that because she was 21 she thought she knew everything, and really didn’t know anything. Making the situation worse, it seemed like he was questioning her because she was black.
Regardless of whether you agree with what those students were protesting, one thing hasn’t changed. It is as unacceptable now as it was then to treat students like they are lesser for inhabiting a space you did, but in a different way — for making it their own, for expressing themselves.
Before you tell students that they are wrong, that they are naive, that they don’t know what they are talking about, that they are trash — hear them out first. Listen to us when we say we’re passionate about something. Listen to our concerns. You were in our shoes once. Why don’t you think we matter?
You think we don’t know anything — just because we’re young, because we haven’t “experienced life.” You call us “liberals” and you use that word as an insult. But our generation has been through a lot too. We’re young, but maybe this world needs our voices. Maybe it needs us to change something. So why won’t you listen to us? Why won’t you try to understand us?
Here’s the thing. An hour after the man who called me trash left the Gatehouse, there was another knock on the door. It was a couple that had met at Hopkins. The husband used to write for the Sports section. And he went on a long rambling story about how they actually used to use the old dilapidated mailbox outside the building before email was a thing. He entered the Gatehouse, but he asked if he could come in. He asked if we weren’t too busy. He asked.
It was clear that he was familiar with those walls and those rooms. He was familiar with the smell of old newspapers. It wasn’t hard to see. But he still treated the space like he was a guest in it. He recognized that it was ours now. And when I’m here a year, 10 years, 50 years from now, I’ll remember that smell too. But no matter what, I promise that I’ll remember that whoever you are, future Hopkins students, it’s yours now.
Diva Parekh is a senior Physics major from Mumbai, India. She is a News & Features Editor.