Lessons at Towson State

May 28, 1992

Of all the lessons Hollie Rice will learn while studying at Towson State University, probably none will prove more memorable or valuable to her than the lesson of the past several weeks.

Last month in the University Union, the 18-year-old sophomore was chatting with a friend about a course taught by David Bergman, a highly regarded TSU literature professor who happens to be gay. A young man -- a stranger to both Ms. Rice and her friend -- butted into the conversation to make anti-gay and anti-Semitic remarks about the professor. The stranger also accused Ms. Rice of being a lesbian, which she is not.

When Ms. Rice defended Mr. Bergman's right to teach and called the young man's comments "ignorant," he sucker-punched her.

Ms. Rice was in for a different but equally shocking kind of blow after she attended a "violence awareness rally" organized by the TSU gay students group to decry the punching incident. Although Ms. Rice did not speak at the rally, the fact that she merely attended led to strained relations between her and members of her Christian sorority. Apparently, some of her good Christian sisters feared that her presence at the rally would serve to imply the sorority's approval of homosexuality.

Since the incident, Ms. Rice has received a death threat, as has Mr. Bergman. At the urging of her parents, Ms. Rice left her off-campus apartment and moved back into her family's home in a Baltimore suburb. She also had to quit her job at the university.

How easy it would have been for Ms. Rice to have shrugged or walked away when the young man made his crude remarks about David Bergman, or to have skipped the rally when she knew it would upset her sorority sisters. Certainly no one would ++ blame her for having second thoughts now, for wishing she had ignored her conscience, as so many of us do when confronted with the sometimes messy business of doing the right thing.

But from the start of this whole disturbing episode, Hollie Rice has done right in speaking up against small-minded bigotry and in taking a stand at odds with members of her social circle. In the process, she has helped to heighten awareness of discrimination on the Towson State campus.

And for herself, she has learned the lesson that the right thing, though difficult to do on occasion, is ultimately the only course to take.

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