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To whom do we afford grace?

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

Amongst the many structural and ideological flaws I found in Conti’s op-ed is that, despite what we commonly consider to be the nature of op-ed pieces, the article in fact fails to make a strong claim. In the hopes of not repeating the mistake, I will state my opinion as clearly as I can: although it is true that the sexual offender registry should be part of the equation in our discussion of criminal justice reform, Luke Heimlich’s case is not representative of the problems with the way we treat sexual offenders, nor should we have any sympathy for his situation.

I would like to begin by addressing possible objections to the very nature of an op-ed written in response to another op-ed. It appears to be an opinion held on this campus that if someone responds negatively to a political belief held by one individual, they are perpetuating the silencing of certain voices. This is an unbased claim. There is a necessary distinction between making a moral judgement on the permissibility of an action (in this case writing an op-ed) and making a moral judgement on the action itself. In this particular case, my moral and critical judgement falls into the latter camp.

Conti’s article devoted, by my estimation, about 270 words to Heimlich’s athletic capabilities. It devoted one sentence to describing the crime he committed. I do appreciate the idea that describing the details of sexual assaults, molestations, and harassment can be insensitive to the victim. I also believe that it is nonetheless often necessary to make these details as public as the victim would allow in order for the public to cast a more accurate moral judgement. Yes, all acts of sexual violence are heinous, but some are more heinous than others. In the research I’ve done, it seems that the victim’s family seems willing to have this information disclosed. Heimlich sexually molested a family relative for the first time when she was four and the last time when she was six. The first time this happened, court documents state, “she told him to stop, but he wouldn’t.” She is also quoted as saying, “it hurt.”

Conti’s article also failed to mention what the victim’s family feels about Heimlich’s opportunity to continue playing baseball. All that was necessary was a quick Google search to find out that victim’s mother has stated, “I’m appalled that the college he’s going to would even have him on their team.” I take it to to not be a controversial opinion that we should value the sentiments of the victim’s family on whether someone has been rehabilitated enough to continue participating normally in society over our own.

I hope that the details of the molestation and the opinions expressed by the victim’s family will help dispel any possible assumption that the molestation was an isolated incident whose consequences are no longer relevant to the victim and her family. So long as the victim, now 11 years old, continues to suffer what I can only imagine to be incredible psychological trauma, I am utterly unwilling to devote any time or energy to dwelling on the end of Heimlich’s baseball career. I cannot imagine any point in my wholehearted condemnation of Heimlich at which I would, as Conti puts it, “become no better than he.” Perhaps my imagination is lacking, but I cannot envision a situation in which overzealous and unforgiving punishment of a child molester makes us no better than a child molester.

None of this is to say that I do not fully appreciate the fact that the criminal justice system has large room for reform in all areas, including the sexual offender registry. In Washington law, any minor in possession of consensual sexting with a person of any age is obligated to register as a sex offender. This is a far less serious offense than child molestation and yet results in the designation of the same societal qualifier. These laws also disproportionately affect persons of color and low-income people who are then faced with limited job prospects and ostracization by society. To put the racialized elements of the registry into perspective, Brock Turner, the last white college athlete to make national headlines for sexual assault, now gives talks on college campuses about the dangers of excess drinking. Luke Heimlich is not representative of the registry’s problems or of the room society does or does not allow for rehabilitation. He is a white man who molested a child and went on to play college baseball.

Sexual molestation undoubtedly differs from other acts of violence that we punish by law. It is a loss of autonomy; it is a loss of humanity, it is a profound degradation. Acts of sexual violence are inherently different from other acts of violence and deserve to be evaluated differently. This does not justify the racially and socioeconomically biased implications of the sexual offender registry or the uniquely aggravated ostracization that many sexual offenders face. Rehabilitation has great value, but why is it that we only seem to allow for white athletes to be rehabilitated?

Conti characterizes Heimlich’s case as a “fall from grace.” I take it that Conti intended to use grace’s denotation as the condition of being favoured by someone. Ironically, in the Christian theology which popularized the aforementioned denotation, Grace is the often unmerited favor God bestows upon the human race as a whole, sinners and innocents alike. Within this context, we should evaluate how modern society has cruelly co-opted this notion. White men with athletic ability are indeed bestowed Grace by society as a whole: their perceived heroism perseveres against all odds. Others are not as lucky. They were never afforded grace, so they cannot fall. Luke Heimlich has indeed fallen, dragged down by his own atrocities. We should devote our care and energy to those who do not have the opportunity to rise, not to whether someone like Luke Heimlich deserved to fall.

 

Giving thanks where it’s due

in Op-Eds/Opinions/Uncategorized by

My father walks in the front door as slowly and quietly as possible. It is 6:30 in the morning, and he is heading to bed after a twelve-hour graveyard shift at the factory. He spent the last twelve hours operating machines for plastic and electric automobile parts. The endless hours of manual labor leave his joints inflamed and his muscles sore—arthritis and an aging body don’t stand up well against large machines and heavy parts. I beg him to find work elsewhere, but this is the only way he can provide for me and my brothers. Opportunity is scarce for those whose skill set is limited to operating a drill press.

On one side of a fence, an eleven-year-old is sprinting away from a border patrol agent. On the other side, a civil war is consuming the country she was forced to leave behind. He chases her across the barren desert. She is guided by nothing more than the dim glow of the moon. He is closing in and she knows not what to do, but her instinct tells her to hide. She waits and only hopes not to get thrown across to the other side of the fence. Morning comes and she is reunited with her family.

Welcome to America, Mom!

She now works a typical desk job: nine to five, decent benefits, and a whopping $7.25 an hour. But minimum wage paychecks get stretched far too thin, turning basic necessities into a list of priorities. “Gas bill or groceries?” Who is to say? But one has no meaning without the other—it’s hard to cook without a stove but why have a stove if you can’t cook? There were nights when I had to sleep away the pain in my aching stomach because there was simply not enough food to feed a family of seven. These circumstances were tough, but all I had ever known until the day an unassuming envelope addressed to “Jordan A. Reyes” changed everything. I suddenly had a warm bed, three meals a day, and a newfound hope for a better life.

Welcome to Swarthmore, Jordan!

Since enrolling I have been fortunate enough to encounter a world of opportunity that I would have otherwise been unexposed to. Attending Swarthmore has enabled me to shadow surgeons, meet and work alongside government officials, and give back to a neighboring impoverished community that reminds me of my own all too well. Swarthmore had become my home and sanctuary, but on Monday I was suddenly stripped of my own sense of security. Another student had the audacity to say that I, and my fellow low-income students, should offer the wealthier students on campus a “warm thank you” since they are “being forced to pay for my opportunity.”  

News flash: I don’t owe you a damn thing. I, and other students like me, have had to overcome obstacles that you could never imagine. We have helped our parents raise our brothers and sisters. We have had to take on multiple jobs to support our families and ourselves. We have trekked miles to get to class, because the local high schools weren’t places of learning, but pipelines to prison. We have had to work twice as hard our whole lives just to receive half of the opportunities bestowed upon some of our wealthier classmates. We have never had any strings to pull or someone’s shoulders to stand on. We have fought our way through the chaotic spectacle that is college admissions, and we have earned every dollar in our financial aid packages.

I pridefully accept my full ride because I know I worked hard for it; I’m not anyone’s charity case. I am unapologetic for occupying spaces in which I am clearly not welcome. I refuse to thank those who have never done anything for me or for my family. I will never “get over it,” because I am not simply “whining,” I am taking a stand for myself and for my peers who have been affected by the erroneous words and actions of people like Erin Jenson ’17.

When she spews her venomous and divisive words, she is simply “speaking her mind” and “exercising her first amendment right.” When low-income students of color mobilize against the hate, we are pegged as bullies.

I cannot bring myself to understand why, even at a place like Swarthmore, white discomfort is prioritized above progress and the needs of disenfranchised groups of students.

After all my family and I have been through, do you honestly think I should be thanking you?

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