Last week, SFA senior film major Ryan Smith posted a video on his twitter about hearing someone in another room in Griffith Hall calling his friends the n-word. He knocked on their door to find answers. After being met with denial, eventually he was given a confession. Luckily, Smith left the conversation unharmed and was able to get the guy who said the slur to admit saying that was not right. After posting on Twitter, other students came forward and shared their experiences about other times they heard. They also posted if they were called the n-word recently on campus. In the case of Smith taking things into his own hands, is this always the case for each time someone says something they should not say? Are we, as SFA students, responsible for holding our peer’s accountable for their derogatory behavior?
Some people’s argument is that if it’s said behind closed doors, then there’s nothing to worry about. They also add on the mentality that we have a right to free speech, and people can say what they want to. However, the things that are said still have an impact, even if only said to a small group of people. The rule: “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” does not apply to hateful things being said, even including whether or not the comment is aimed at a specific group or person. The message behind the slur is still hate speech. People need to stop it from going out into public.
We, as students, should hold our friends and peers accountable. If they think it’s okay to say these things without getting in trouble, they think they can say it out in the open and not get in trouble. In this case, if Smith had not gone out of his way to make the other students realize that what happened is not okay, the student would not have gotten that scare of getting in trouble. From now on, he should think about how his actions will have consequences. Next time if he does say the n-word again, he might not get the same treatment as he did last week.
One thing that is told to students during orientation is the SFA Way. It includes: The Principle of Respect, Caring, Responsibility, Unity. and Integrity. The school also says this about the root principles, “We expect the best from ourselves and from each other, and we hold each other accountable when we fail to maintain these standards.” Yet, the only time it is enforced is during orientation, and it is never talked about again.
The school does have it available to the public with just one Google search, but it is hidden in the deep content of the school’s website. They do send out emails about their policies during the first month of classes each semester, but not every student checks their email periodically.
There needs to be more of an effort to enforce this principle because more students that are part of a minority feel unsafe on campus grounds. Residence halls also need to make it more known how to report a toxic environment, so it doesn’t get overlooked and before it escalates. The fact that students who are of a white race feel like they can use the n-word freely gives the African American community in the student body the feeling of not being protected by their peers. Students need to give that respect to others as we would want that respect given to us. The campus should be a place to feel at home away from home, not a place that could easily turn hostile with a spoken word.
If we want a safe environment, we need to enforce that. But, we should proceed with caution. Going out of your comfort zone to make sure that discriminatory talk stops before it escalates is one thing, but safety should be a priority. Students should keep in mind that people react violently, and no person should get hurt while stopping hate speech. Making a safe environment not only for ourselves, but for everyone who is not causing harm to others starts with us.