A Community in Shock
By Sam Van Pykeren
The North Park community was shocked one morning in early November, when Taylor Volk, a fourth year student, posted on Facebook that she had woken up to a note on her door telling her to “Go back to hell.” This note, containing homophobic slurs and “#Trump,” was posted with two screen shots of emails from disposable accounts containing more offensive slurs. Her Facebook post was shared by many in the North Park community and was then picked up by NBC Chicago, televised and posted on their website.
The University responded to the incident with a swift email from President David Parkyn. He wrote: “...I noted that messages and expressions of hate have no place on our campus. Words and symbols of hate are not only hurtful and cause pain, they demonstrate intolerance for others, place victims in positions of fear, and threaten their personal safety. On our campus, the safety and security of our students is our highest priority. It is because of this priority, alongside our commitment to being a welcoming and hospitable community, that we denounce hate speech in any form.” Volk's story extended beyond the small community to the city and beyond in only a few days.
However, right before the school went on break for Thanksgiving, the community was yet again propelled into shock when Volk came forward to the administration of NPU to admit that she had fabricated the entire incident. Initially, the school community was informed on Nov. 22 by a follow-up email from Parkyn, “Sadly, we discovered that the incident and related messages were fabricated; the individual responsible for the incident is not continuing as a student at North Park. We are confident there is no further threat of repeated intolerance to any member of our campus community stemming from this recent incident.” Vice President for Student Engagement, Jodi Koslow-Martin, confirmed that Volk then decided not to return to school and instead pursue her education elsewhere. The community was left to ponder as Thanksgiving commenced after a turbulent two weeks.
As soon as the campus was informed, NBC Chicago published follow-up article explaining and denouncing the first. This article explaining the fabrication of the event was then picked up by many major conservative online news outlets such as The Point, The College Fix, Breitbart and the conservative journalist Milo Yiannopoulos’ website, “Milo.”
One of the most affected campus groups is the North Park University’s Queers and Allies (Q&A) (for full disclosure I am currently a co-president). Over the past few weeks, Q&A has been receiving hateful comments on their Facebook page. Many Trump supporters and North Park alumni have commented on a picture of Volk featured in a project from LGBTQ History Month. Although the picture and story about Volk was featured over a month and a half before the fabricated incident, individuals have written hate-fueled comments and sent the group personal messages. Comments ranging from, “Ah the girl who lied about being targeted with her FAKE NOTES. What a loser,” and “... She should be shunned by everybody in the lgbtq [sic.] community...” to much more profane and hurtful comments were plastered on the group’s page. The faculty advisors and student leaders, myself included, met together as soon as classes resumed after break to touch base on what happened. Each expressed their sorrow, hurt, and confusion as much as the rest, but everyone reiterated the fact that now, more than ever, was a time for the community to come together.
When asked about the incident, Q&A co-president Melanie Lofgren offered this: “When I recall past experiences of hurt and betrayal, I also recall that I, the betrayed, became the betrayer. It's important to remain gracious and to recognize our own faults in the midst of all that has and is happening.” While many around campus are relieved that this incident was not real, most in the Q&A group and LGBTQ community at NPU are still recovering from betrayal, mistrust, and confusion on how and why this happened.
While Taylor did indeed decide to drop out of NPU and was not expelled, many in the campus community at North Park are still largely trying to rationalize and recuperate from the incident. When asked about the initial incident and its fabrication, as well as the administrative response, SGA President, Steve Smrt, responded: “When information last Tuesday came out over email, I honestly was shocked, heartbroken, and felt extremely deceived. Although I do not know all of the decisions that were made by North Park staff and administration, I feel as if the university handled the case seriously and with good judgment. I truly believe this situation also showed the best of our student body. The caring attitudes, compassionate hearts, and those willing to seek justice on this campus are so prevalent." Smrt prays that campus will "continue to demonstrate these values when interacting with anyone who has been victimized in our community."
As Q&A is a part of the Collaboratory and its cultural clubs, many other cultural club leaders and members expressed empathy, sorrow, and solidarity. Faith Zamblé, fourth year student and an instrumental member of the Black Student Union, said that when she first found out about the incident her reaction was “disheartened and dismayed ... I'd heard of similar incidents happening to others across the country, but for some reason, didn't expect it to hit so close to home.” After the second email and details emerged regarding the fabrication, Zamblé says her reaction is three-pronged: "One, it made queer kids afraid that they would also be targeted. Two, now it will be incredibly hard for any other students to be believed. Three, people are taking this opportunity to castigate Taylor, and that desire for vindication, while somewhat understandable, has brought out the worst in them." Zamblé hopes the community will continue discussion to understand rather than judge.
As the community begins to pull itself back together after such a shattering event, the campus discussion has only grown in fair and fuller ways. Faculty and students are not backing away from having discussions in class. In her Media and Society class, second year student Lyndsie Cox says, “We’ve dedicated entire class periods to having sole discussions about the election and its presence and the president elect’s influence over a tide of hate falling over the country.” As well as class discussion changing, campus discussion has changed as well. Both professor and student-led panels have been convened to discuss and challenge each other into creative and provoking conversation surrounding the election, its results, and the growing voices of many here at NPU.
Nov. 8 is when a lot changed for America, particularly for minorities of all creeds, orientations, genders, and races. Donald Trump was elected to the presidency, and shortly after many around the country began to face an increased amount of hate speech. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has reported over 700 different incidents of hateful incidents, speech, harassment, and intimidation since the election of Trump alone. If you or anyone you know have been a victim of any hate crime, please report it to the SPLC, as well as the local police.
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