By daybreak Thursday more than 100 cardboard gravestones covered the north end of Wilder Bowl. Constructed the night before, the markers were part of a Take Back the Night event organized to call attention to hate crimes.
Starting at 11 p.m., a small crowd gathered to remember people who have been victims of hate crimes. Some people stood with candles in small groups while others prepared their own memorials for friends and relatives, as well as unknown or forgotten victims.
First-year Nedra Lee was one student who contributed to the cemetery. She made markers to remember several slain leaders in the civil rights movement, including Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. Lee said the media attention on the Matthew Shepard incident emphasized the fact that other victims of hate crimes have been ignored.
"It's our opportunity to give something back," Lee said.
Natalie Huddleston, a first-year, also made a gravestone to add to the cemetery. Her headstone was for a couple in Fayetteville, Ark. who was attacked for being interracial. The man was killed.
"I found it terrifying because I am part of an interracial couple," she said. "You don't think people will go so far. It's really sad."
Sophomore Jose Melendez had the initial idea for the event. "After what happened to Matthew Shepard I got the sense that the gay community took a step back into the closet," he said. "I felt we needed something to bring people together."
Melendez approached Angela Nichols, Multicultural Resource Center (MRC) coordinator for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. Nichols and Melendez put together the idea of a fake cemetery and began to invite other groups to participate.
Both Nichols and Melendez emphasized the event was not just for the LGBT community. "I come from a whole bunch of different communities," Melendez said. "I'm an immigrant, I'm Hispanic and I'm gay. I've experienced a lot of different kinds of hate. I don't want to pull them apart. I want to bring all my experiences together."
Melendez hoped this sort of coalition-building and blending of experiences would happen during the event as well. He and Nichols hoped victims of racially, religious and ethnically-based hate crimes would feel welcome as well.
"The way I see it is that LGBT students are providing the leadership for the other groups," she said. "If people don't want to participate just because it's sponsored by OUTRAGE then they have something to confront."
In an effort to welcome other groups to the event Nichols and Melendez called it "Queers and Allies Take Back the Night."
The mood Wednesday night was one of both mourning and unity. A small number of people congregated to talk quietly about the people they were remembering and their reactions to the recent murder and torture of Matthew Shepard. Melendez said he would stay as long as other people wanted to be there. He said he hoped people would begin to share their own stories and experiences.
Along with students, several administrators, including Associate Dean of Student Life and Services Bill Stackman and Assistant Dean of Student Life and Services Shilpa Dave, joined in the crowd.
The event comes during a week when three gay men have received threatening hate e-mail messages in their Oberlin accounts. According to Nichols, the three messages are currently under investigation, as well as a fourth message that was sent last week. Nichols said incidents like these have been in the increase across the country since the Shepard murder.
Nichols said reaction within the queer community has evolved since first hearing of the Shepard incident last month. Now that the shock has passed the reality of hate crimes and hatred remains. "Now is the time when we're feeling the fear more," she said. "We're not sad anymore.
Remember them: A student prepares a memorial as part of Wednesday's Queers and Allies Take Back the Night event (photo by Leslie Torne)
Copyright © 1998, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 127, Number 8, November 6, 1998
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