On Monday, USD hosted a student forum to address recent racial slurs used by a student organization to promote their event. Thank you to those that attended and genuinely listened with an open mind and heart. The focus of the forum was to hear student voices conveying their viewpoints on the issue and what they would like to be done. We encouraged students to start their communication at a grassroots level instead of placing sole blame and responsibility on only administration to fix things. It comes down to the individual, the reflection of self and a sense of need for intrinsic commitment to change. We have to do better to be better. It comes down to each individual to decide for themselves what they will allow for themselves to be acceptable and hold others accountable as well.
Although Monday night was a great start of important and critical conversations that NEED to occur on campus on the regular and not when we go viral or we feel trouble is looming, I’m here with the rest of the UAAS executive team behind me along with various allies with an additional statement to further the conversation on student and self-accountability and to address the need for USD, administration and SGA to be actively cognizant of the direct student impacts of the Intellectual Diversity bill (HB1087) that was passed and to set a standard for this university that aligns with our values in regards to free speech.
First and foremost, the decision to learn and change is made by each and every single individual every single day. However, we as students can also set procedures and guidelines for ourselves to hold ourselves and each other accountable. As student organizations, we can create and implement review procedures so that nothing is published from our organization websites without at least one other person or advisor reviewing it and offering feedback. This will reduce if not prevent these types of instances from continuing to occur, especially on social media as things live forever on the internet, whether we want it to or not. Additionally, we as students can make the decision to ask people and groups in advance if they are okay with being the butt of a joke before moving forward.
This allows us as individuals to become more mindful and act with mindfulness. Even if administration has their hands tied with policy, these are clear examples of action that we can take as students and student organizations to effect real change on this campus and community using our voices.
Secondly, the university, administration, and SGA as representatives of the student body need to be genuinely active and open-minded in the process to affect real change on this campus and community as well. With the passing of the Intellectual Diversity bill (HB1087), last week’s events are just one of many examples of the direct student impact that is now allowed to occur. Students are allowed to be continually disrespected and treated as less than without any consequence to the individual responsible for the atrocious, disgusting, and unacceptable messages that are delivered.
This is an issue administration and student representatives should recognize as extremely alarming. Not only is it inconceivable that in 2020 individuals would be allowed to disrespect others with derogatory terms, but this also affects the bottom line and growth of this institution. The target market for universities are students of underrepresented backgrounds and first-generation students. If this university does not create, commit to and sustain a truly welcoming and inclusive campus, it will lose out on a fast-growing population and fall behind as the flagship university of the state. These severe consequences will occur and continue to occur if the university doesn’t set a standard of what is acceptable and what is not.
USD must set a standard of what is acceptable while adhering to freedom of speech. As indicated by President Gestring, if the events that have transpired don’t align with the university’s values, then what does? What is the university’s concrete and transparent baseline of what represents USD’s values when it pertains to free speech?
Currently, USD has a statement of diversity and inclusive excellence included in course syllabi and some diversity related posters around campus. However, where is the action and commitment to back up these words and statements? Where is the commitment to the excellence in inclusive excellence and how will this university protect its students from all walks of life? To be clear, this doesn’t just include people of color or those with visible distinctions of diversity but is inclusive of all aspects of diversity that increase the perspectives and experiences we may bring to the table.
In conclusion, although it is so extremely frustrating and hurtful that these recent events have occurred, we are thankful for the meaningful conversations that have started on this campus, and we want to see these conversations continue and for action to be added as well. Students and student organizations, we need to hold ourselves and others accountable in our personal actions and the procedure standards we set for the organizations that we lead.
University administration and SGA, we must be actively cognizant of the impact that state and federal legislation has on students and the success and growth of our university. Most importantly, WE NEED A STANDARD. I know I’ve asked a lot of questions and I hope that in time, university administration will have some answers as well and students will provide feedback so that EVERYONE can come together to create a united campus. Go yotes means all yotes! I can be better, you can be better, we can be better.