Freshman Taylor Truster got on his hands and knees and crawled under a barricade of tables in order to escape the jeers of partygoers calling him a “faggot” and a “gay” who was not welcome.
Truster had been standing with a friend in Phi Kappa Psi fraternity at a registered party Friday night costumed as a drag queen for Halloween when a partygoer approached him and asked him to leave the house based on his appearance.
“You need to get out of here because we don’t take that gay shit here,” the man said.
Truster attempted to leave through the designated exit, but it was blocked by the man who asked him to leave along with a group of other men. Truster sought an alternative exit. After failing to find an exit, the man who asked Truster to leave forced Truster to exit by crawling under a barricade of tables to the door.
After arriving outside, Truster and his friend heard shouts from individuals yelling out of windows commenting on their sexuality. The two went directly to Public Safety to report the incident. Upon arriving Truster gave way to his emotions.
“I was a hot mess when I was at public safety,” Truster said. “I was bawling, I was texting people. It’s just scary, it was just disturbing.”
Public Safety reported the case as harassment and officers and administrators are currently investigating.
President of Phi Kappa Psi fraternity Paul Dugdale emailed the student body a letter of apology on behalf of the chapter Monday.
“Phi Kappa Psi is both stunned and appalled by the incidents of hateful discrimination that occurred at our chapter-sponsored event this past weekend,” Dugdale said in the letter.
Dugdale said Phi Kappa Psi has worked with the university in investigating the issue and has contributed a photograph and name of the possible culprit in the incident.
“Evidence suggests that the individual is a non-Phi Psi who was visiting from another university,” Dugdale said.
Dugdale said his chapter was “shattered” by the events that occurred Friday, and he hopes those affected by the incident accept his apologies.
“We’re really trying our best,” Dugdale said.
Truster said as investigators continue seeking the individuals involved in the harassment case he hopes others do not place blame on groups to which they may belong or to the community at large.
“I especially want this individual to be held responsible as an individual, because I don’t want this to reflect on our campus really, because these have mostly been isolated incidents,” Truster said.
Though shaken by the event, Truster said that the result could have been far worse.
“I’m relieved that it happened the way that it did, that as few people were involved as possible and no one got hurt, there was no violence from either side. So it’s not good that it happened, but it’s good that it happened in the way that it did,” Truster said.
Truster said that he hopes those who say that bystander intervention should have taken place so that the harassment would not have occurred can realize that in his case it was not a realistic possibility. He said that the speed at which the instance occurred and the noise surrounding him eliminated the possibility of others intervening.
“I think by the time that somebody noticed what was happening I was already gone,” Truster said.
Other instances of harassment
Prior to the case of harassment Friday night students experienced taunting and cases of vandalism targeting their sexuality.
Acomputerized voice yelled “faggot” at freshman John Yates as he walked through the library two weeks ago. Yates said he has become accustomed to the harassment coming from a community in New York that was not accepting of his sexuality.
“Coming to DePauw, I had higher hopes. I thought it would be a safer space. I thought I would be escaping that by leaving my neighborhood in New York,” Yates said.
Yates said that with continued harassment he has developed a “thick skin” and now cares more about his friends impacted by harassment than about him being targeted.
Others have also been impacted by the homophobic comments and vandalism. One freshman had the word ‘gay’ written on his dorm room door in wax that required extensive efforts to be removed.
Freshmen Jonathan Reyes stood outside his room in Hogate when another member of the dorm shouted down the stairway, “Shut up, faggot.”
Reyes also came from a neighborhood that did not accept his sexuality and he expected a more accepting community coming to DePauw. Reyes said he hopes that he can encourage others to shy away from using words that may hurt others.
“You can’t change people’s mindsets but you would hope that with some of these issues you would be able to educate them and hope they can change,” Reyes said.
Following these instances LBGTQ students view campus differently and in some cases feel they must hide who they are in certain situations.
Truster said that he acknowledges now that he must behave differently in certain places on campus.
“There are places on campus where we shouldn’t necessarily puff out our feathers and be as flamboyant as possible, I mean that’s not going to stop me, but it was just shedding a light a little on some of the things that might not be seen by everyone,” Truster said. “There are places where it’s not safe to be who you are, but I don’t think that should stop anyone from being who they are.”
After his experience at Phi Kappa Psi, Truster said he will likely not return to the chapter.
“A lot of people have said, ‘don’t go back to that house’ and I don’t think that I would. I’m not relating them to that instance, but just as a mental thing I probably wouldn’t go back there,” Truster said.
Yates said that his experiences with homophobic harassment will not hinder him from going places on campus.
“It is just as much my campus and my home just as much as anyone else’s so I’m not going to hide who I am or change myself, Yates said. “I will not hide my sexuality.”
Reyes agreed that he would not change himself for others.
“I’m not going to stop being me because I’m not accepted by a few people,” Reyes said.
Assistant Director of the Multicultural Student Services Hermen Diaz said that he feels disappointed by the cases of homophobic harassment.
“I think that one of the most upsetting parts is that people feel unsafe at times, they feel like they’re being questioned and not only questioned in general but questioned by their peers and people they live with in community with,” Diaz said. “I think that’s really disheartening.”
Truster said that his experience has encouraged him to react to prejudiced comments rather than allowing them to occur.
“I’m not going to be passive from now on now that this is something that happened to me personally. And not just in cases of homophobia, but just in cases of anything that I see that’d I’d normally just pass off as a joke,” Truster said. “I’m still loud and proud.”
Vice President for Student Life Cindy Babington encouraged students in any instance of harassment to report their cases.
“We know that these things go on because we’re a community and these things go on in the world so of course they are going on here, but if people don’t report them there can be no response,” Babington said.
Truster also encouraged other students to report their cases in order to bring issues of prejudice to light.
An opportunity for change
Freshman intern at the Russell J. Compton Center for Peace and Social Justice Richard Walsh opened a forum discussion Sunday night addressing harassment in recent weeks standing surrounded by a full terrace at the Union Building. He opened the discussion before the group moved to the Ballroom with a statement seeking change.
“It’s not an issue of us versus them,” Walsh said. “This is an issue of campus climate that we’re here to address.”
Over one hundred students, faculty and administrators sat in a circle in the UB Ballroom describing the events that occurred over the past weeks and seeking a solution to the prejudice.
Walsh said the attendance exceeded his expectations and proved that the campus seeks change.
“The fact that we had so many students here is a testament to how the climate is going to change, there’s not going to be a way to stop it,” Walsh said.
Representatives of Phi Kappa Psi will meet with United DePauw Wednesday in order to discuss the incident Friday and to address plans for moving forward.
Members of United DePauw have suggested that further discussions must take place on campus in order to educate about tolerance and acceptance at DePauw.
Walsh said that the homophobic harassment instances might ultimately have a positive effect.
“It’s disappointing to see, but it’s really good to see all of the support that’s coming out of it. This is actually going to be a blessing in disguise,” Walsh said.