The race perspective: Tackling racial tension on campus

Saturday, Sept. 7 was not a typical early morning at Maryville College. The night before started like any other; students were busy doing homework, playing video games and partying with friends. But somewhere during the course of the night, the rowdiness and festivities turned to tension and violence. By now, most all of the students on campus have heard something or another about the situation: drunken rabble, racial slurs, fighting and a student with a concussion. What most students haven’t heard, however, is a justifiable reason for these events. Refusing to believe that misunderstanding and disrespect such as this could be considered a normal occurrence here at MC, I set out to understand the students’ views of racial tension on this campus, trying to determine the environment that allowed this event to arise and what could be done to prevent similar incidents in the future.

For most of the students I talked to, it came as an obvious assumption that both parties’ actions were unwarranted and directly conflicted with the attitudes of scholarship, respect and integrity upheld by the college’s covenant. However, a shocking number of students responded with sentiments like “He had it coming,” and “Alright, he deserved the first punch, but the second was uncalled for.” The fact that I was confronted with attitudes such as these numerous times, tells me that the parties involved were not an outlier or minority in their actions. In fact, it seems many students would have acted in the same manner, applying an eye-for-an-eye mentality hardly befitting a representative of MC. Incidents such as this are precisely those in which a liberal, critical education becomes most useful. If we as Maryville College students cannot reason and deal with conflict like this in a more appropriate manner, something is wrong on a fundamental level.

It then followed that there must exist some basic fault in the views of racial interchanges between students here on campus. Many of the students I discussed the event with shared a mutual inclination: that, in a large part, this problem can be attributed to a lack of understanding about the respect owed to another student.

This assumption of course is two-fold. You cannot incriminate one party for its insensitivity without upbraiding the other in equal measure.

One student expressed a concern about racial views on both ends of the spectrum. This student believed that racial slurs do not belong on the campus on any level. That is to say, whether used for derogatory purposes or as a cultural familiarity, words with such harsh connotation and serious consequences do not have a place on a campus which focuses on academic understanding and acceptance. This student brought up an interesting point. Essentially, the use of racial slurs and other derogatory terms, even as jokes among friends, leads to a desensitization of the words. The solution is simple: if there is a word that you would not want others using in any context, do not use it yourself.

Another student expressed a concern about campus policy regarding racial harassment. While there are many policies regarding harassment and respect on campus, at the present moment, a policy regarding the use of racially insensitive language or “hate speech” is not specifically addressed. Many students were unhappy about the consequences that resulted from the incident. Perhaps a well-defined outline of how to handle these events in the future will keep conflict such as this from arising again.

In cases such as this, light must be shed on the flaws that exist throughout the system that the conflict arose in. From the basic language environment that promoted this behavior to the inability to judge an academically reasonable response, Maryville may be lucky that this incident is not simply another layer on a plethora of similar predecessors.

A simple lack of understanding between students lies at the root of this problem. I believe that MC students have both the capability and the desire to see disrespect such as this eradicated from the campus. Like most change, this starts on the ground level. Day to day, moment to moment, when insensitivity occurs, it is up to the students to put a stop to it. Let your friends and peers know that it is not okay to promote this kind of thinking. Do not use racial slurs and do not allow others to use them, even in a casual way. When conflict does arise, step back and think about your reaction. Violence is not the answer. It is up to the students to see where insensitivity lies and change it within themselves. Refuse to promote a system that encourages disrespect, and that disrespect will cease to exist.

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