As members of the College Diversity Roundtable, we write to articulate our concern with a pattern of items that have been published in the Campus Times – most recently, the opinion piece “Marriage Debate Not New One” on Nov. 18, 2004. In the same issue that reported on the admissions office’s serious attempt to increase diversity on our campus, the CT Editorial Board also published a piece that could conceivably have offended all people of minority or mixed-race heritage. In our opinion, this illustrates bad judgment on the part of the CT Editorial Board, one that is implicitly condoned by many students on campus.
We are not suggesting that the CT should not continue to publish controversial material. Academia is full of potentially hot-button issues, but the point of real controversy ought to be to provoke thought and to stimulate intelligent and informed debate. In order to be trusted with this mission, an entity must have established a track record of thoughtfulness and quality that we frankly have not seen in the CT’s publications. The CT has claimed that this opinion piece was conceived as satire, an ironic statement intended to criticize current arguments for banning gay marriage by comparing them to arguments for banning inter-racial marriage. As a rhetorical strategy, satire has both enormous potential and risks – it takes considerable skill and insight to pull it off successfully. Unfortunately, this piece fails to realize its satirical goals and succeeds only in angering and alienating readers. And satire may not have been the best way to approach these issues in the first place. The article assumes that African Americans no longer confront these or similar obstacles, which is far from reality.
The attitude that racially insensitive material is “no big deal” adds to the problem rather than helping to solve it and is an act of aggression against the community we are trying to build. The racial and social justice history of our country is no joking matter, and yet it seems that all too often, the minority members of our community bear the brunt of the majority’s jokes. These incidents have real and negative impacts on the targeted students.
When added to a list of events and activities that have occurred on campus over recent months and years, the decision to publish this opinion piece points to a broad level of ignorance in our student community of the ways in which actions and words have a direct impact on other students. Specifically, we refer to the history of verbal harassment of Black students, racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic graffiti in classrooms, public bathrooms and residential areas, the “affirmative action bake sale” held by the College Republicans in the Spring of 2004 and numerous racially-insensitive cartoons published by the CT. The response to those who have been injured by these events or publications has frequently been for the offending party to claim the protection of the first amendment and to suggest that the targeted minority population should simply “get over it.”
In opposition to such attitudes, we suggest that everyone at UR is equally responsible for the climate in which we all live and learn. UR’s efforts at increased diversity will be in vain if our climate does not also improve.
Assistant Dean, Director of the Office of Minority Student Affairs and
Chair of College Diversity Roundtable