Perhaps the most disturbing facets of [the Matthew Shepard story]( can be found in the details. Ultimately, it’s the nuances of events that evoke, most profoundly, our darkest corners as a nation and a culture. In many news making events of late, the favored media images have become ensconced in conventional wisdom. Pictures of preteens dressed in camouflage, of a fireman holding an infant amidst the rubble and of the pickup truck dragging a body, have given these crimes a sort of iconography all of their own. I am speaking of course of Jonesboro, Arkansas’s schoolyard massacre, the Oklahoma bombing and Jasper, Texas’s take on modern day lynching. The human capacity for evil represented in this smattering of cases is only reinforced by their defining peculiarities. Time magazine headlined its article about Shepard’s attack with a phrase as haunting for its cynicism as it is for its sheer gore: “That’s no scarecrow.” The meaning of the title refers to the fact that Shepard was lassoed to a deer fence and left to die after having been pistol-whipped and burned by his torturers. Upon reading the article, one also realizes that Shepard’s death and the scarecrow metaphor have even more chilling dimensions – the bicyclists, who found his body, rode up to it thinking that the diminutive and limp form in the distance was a scarecrow. As they pedaled closer and closer, they realized that the human-like doll was not a doll at all, and the crimson splotches were not a child or farmer’s handiwork, but human blood. In a nation where homosexual men are lured from bars and beaten to death, it becomes critical that any tolerant and humane members of society be conscious of their individual obligation to fight hate. Interestingly, this crime happened at a highly significant moment in the Georgetown landscape. I remember glancing at The Hoya on Sept. 29, 1998 and reading a disturbing letter from Ann Sheridan, the president of an organization called the Georgetown Ignatian Society. Her letter discussed the Safe Zones program that identifies faculty, administrators and resident life staffers who are willing to serve as listeners for students struggling with sexual identity. Notably, the program operates on a purely voluntary basis. Sheridan lambasted the Safe Zones program on the grounds that, “Georgetown dismisses the reality that students and faculty who don’t . publicly identify with the program will be at risk of the same opprobrium homosexuals claim exists in homophobia.” Sheridan went on to refer sarcastically to the situation as “theater of the absurd scenario.” She also asked if “ribbons of a different color are being issued for heterosexuals?” Sheridan’s points are couched in the Catholic ideology, a crutch which I think is offensive to the 50 percent of Georgetown’s population who are not Catholic. This was also an insult to the Jesuit themselves, who have built a legacy based on progressiveness, advanced intellectual philosophy and the sanctity of an open-minded world view. Sheridan’s frivolous attitude toward the intolerance reaped upon non-heterosexuals in America is harrowing for its utter lack of compassion. One wonders if Sheridan has considered that heterosexuals are not typically beaten to death for their chosen sexuality. As a Catholic, I find the fatalism and dogma of the many more orthodox members of my faith to be demoralizing. Sheridan also jettisoned the safe sex educational program that Georgetown provides for their first year students as “sinful” because a “Catholic university is teaching its students how to commit `safe’ sin.” In an era where Georgetown alumni return to campus annually to lecture on life with AIDS during National AIDS Awareness day, Sheridan’s message smacks of ignorance and delusion. Furthermore, most Georgetown students I know received Sex Ed in the seventh grade. Ultimately, one wonders what are we really being protected from and why does the Georgetown Ignatian Society have the right to protect us? Safe Zones represents a pivotal step for Georgetown. Georgetown has evolved as its student body has. As the school advances and continues to accommodate a highly diverse and selective student body from an eclectic range of religious and ideological backgrounds, it is time to recognize that it will be necessary to offer the same kind of programs that other top universities do. The gay rights movement is a reality and the Safe Zones program is instrumental in making Georgetown a more modern and tolerant university. Other more fundamental truths bolster the need for a program like Safe Zones. Jesuits founded this school as a bastion for spiritual and intellectual growth. It is necessary that we remember that compassion and tolerance are as much a part of being Catholic and as a moral member of society. As a Catholic, as a Georgetown student and, most importantly, as an open-minded and accepting heterosexual member of this community, I applaud the Safe Zones program as a constructive and much needed outlet for individuals with questions regarding their sexual identity. After all, who am I to impose my beliefs and biases on anyone else? Let us remember just what education is meant to achieve. Suzanne Smalley (COL ’98) is a student in the Graduate School.

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