Opinion: I found the Garthwait photo. Here’s how I think we should respond.
By Cameron Sauers, Guest Columnist
I did not think that my casual browsing through old college yearbooks would result in this. I thought it best to explain the situation through my eyes so others may understand my intentions. I would first like to acknowledge Mr. Garthwait’s apology and his genuine remorse. I have nothing but the utmost respect for his contributions to improving this college. I am among the many students who benefited from the Garthwait Leadership Center. I participated in the Certificate program my freshman year and felt I made remarkable personal strides with the program, culminating in presenting at the Leadership showcase. In the fall semester, I spoke twice more at GLC events, including a 30-minute presentation on leadership at the Battle of Gettysburg. I firmly believe in the GLC’s mission and have nothing but admiration and respect for its employees and participants. I share Mr. Garthwait’s hopes that current students will “be more thoughtful than I was about the impact of their actions on others.” That shared sentiment is why I have done what I have done.
When I found the photo in question, I could have just kept turning the page and ignored it. Many feel I should have done exactly that. I’ve watched “Hogan’s Heroes” and do share the same affection for the show that many have expressed online. I acknowledge that my decision has not been universally popular and have read many of the things people have had to say about my actions. William Lloyd Garrison once wrote, “[A]re right and wrong convertible terms, dependent on public opinion?” To me, right and wrong are not convertible terms. I acted in accordance with what I thought was the right thing.
I fully share Chris Roemer’s ’82 opinion: “This is a teachable moment. It’s a time for courageous discussion, not retribution.”
The rest of this article focuses on the need for courageous discussion and here at Gettysburg. It is on us as students to combat anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry on this campus.
In a line from his most famous speech, delivered after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert F. Kennedy said, “In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it’s perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in.”
In a difficult time for us as a school, the time is now to look at ourselves and ask who we are and what direction do we want to move in?
The challenge is now on myself and my fellow students to create a campus culture and community that welcomes students of all backgrounds and does not display symbols linked to hatred, oppression and genocide. We can do better as a student body – we must do better. While incredible strides have been made on campus to increase diversity, we must remember that complacency is the enemy of progress. As we move forward, let us renew our commitment to the unfinished work of making Gettysburg College a place for everyone.
Some may argue that it was not my place to make this decision to share the photo and I recognize the legitimacy of their concerns. Those who only know me from this decision may consider me overzealous, oversensitive and some sort of Robespierre-esque voice on campus. I hope you may now see that it is not the case. I did this because I thought about the world that my generation is on the cusp of inheriting. I have watched my peers be shot down at school, those who could be my younger siblings locked in cages, while the older generations in political power remained silent and inactive. I was born in the days following the massacre at Columbine High School and the news events of my life have been dominated by hatred and violence committed in the name of Nazism and other hateful ideologies.
I recognize that times and values have changed, but was Nazism not considered evil in 1980? I shudder at the thought and wish to never return to a time when white supremacist symbols are acceptable. I could not bear to be silent any longer. I had been silent for too long. I love Gettysburg College deeply and it was my love for this school and the people here that made me pursue this decision because I firmly believe we must be relentless in our pursuit of bettering this campus.
Soon the dust will fade, national media attention will dissipate, and normal life will resume. I challenge my peers on Campus to join me in the fight against hatred on this campus. John F. Kennedy remarked in his inaugural address: “All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days . . . nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.”
Gettysburgians, this will not be completed this semester, nor next semester, nor in our time as students. Let us not be dissuaded by the great task before us. Let us begin.