I felt shock, sadness and a strong sense of helplessness when I tuned into WPSD Local 6 on Tuesday, Feb. 12, and heard the news about the racist parody Twitter accounts that have been operating for a while now and targeting Murray State students. As the coordinator of gender and diversity studies for the university, I take the issues of equality and fairness for all seriously – those ideals are, in fact, my guiding principles in life – and it distresses me to recognize that we still have so far to go to achieve their realization.
After hearing the story and being especially moved by the interview with a young Asian woman who communicated her feelings of alienation and fear that came as a result of being targeted, I spent the evening contemplating how best to address this brazen display of disregard and disrespect in a way that would prove productive and avoids dwelling upon its inherent negativity. Finding such a solution is never simple, but we owe it to ourselves as members of this University community – a community dedicated to ensuring the appreciation and promotion of diversity and its richness – to commit to such work. Bigotry of any stripe degrades us all and our obligation is to address it, always hoping that eventually it will no longer plague us.
When I entered my classrooms throughout the day on Wednesday, I made it a priority to discuss these events with my students and to discuss how we might respond. Their initial response, in general, was shock and sadness. Some students had even been targets of this cruel pastime. A few students, even while expressing concern and dismay, felt powerless to respond, citing the ubiquity of such behavior in our culture at large. It didn’t take long, though, before ideas began to percolate among the groups – suggestions of organizing Residential College programs, disabling Twitter feeds, and writing to The News, among others – and the mood in each respective class altered in favor of empowerment, resistance. Suddenly students who had never thought of themselves as agents of change realized they might be able to work together to do something worthwhile, meaningful. Some ideas were grand and will take time and a great deal of energy to implement, while others were as simple (though no less impactful, I’d argue) as participating in campus events designed to celebrate diversity in its myriad forms. Sometimes the beginning of real change transpires simply by acknowledging that each of us possesses the power to resist hatred and cruelty and demand a different kind of world where the reverberations of such intolerance are metaphorically drowned out by collective good will. Hyperbolic as that may sound, those impressive, energized students in my classroom last week make it clear that such aspirations are not nearly as overblown as they may sound.
On Friday morning, my GDS 201 students guided me in creating three simple, powerful suggestions for responding to intolerance and bigotry. They’re suggestions that, taken seriously and implemented with care, behoove us all:
1 Use your voice: speaking out, firmly and respectfully, inspires others to question their own assumptions and to do the same. This can be done informally, among family and friends, or more formally using the resources (social media, print media) available to you.
2 Educate yourself: Murray State offers a wealth of opportunities for all students to learn about diversity – take a glance at Racernet any day and you’re likely to find an event that will expand your horizons and enhance your appreciation of cultures and peoples. Explore our course offerings: the whole purpose of a university education is to learn about and experience the unfamiliar.
3 Take action: this can take many forms and there are numerous avenues for such participation on campus. With a little investigation – and I’m happy to point anyone to these resources – you’ll learn that we have a number of offices and organizations whose sole purpose, through education, advocacy, and community-building, is to ensure that the University remains an institution dedicated to fairness and equality for all people.
Though I wish the parody Twitter accounts had never existed and that no one had been hurt by them, I hope we can seize this moment, resist such ugliness and commit to living the ideals for which this institution stands.
Commentary by Joshua Adair, coordinator of gender and diversity studies.