“Is it offensive?” The short answer: Yes

By MacKenzie Brady & Jake Dipaola

Student Life Editor & Elm Staff Writer

On Oct. 7, the Black Student Union and Cleopatra’s Sisters co-hosted the “Is it Offensive?” panel in The Egg.

Students were encouraged to anonymously submit situations in which they had been discriminated against or were offended. These submissions were then printed out on slips of paper, and each panelist drew one, read it out loud, and opened the floor for discussion.

The panel consisted of Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Religion Dr. Bin Song, Director of the Writing Center and Lecturer in English Dr. John Boyd, Deputy Director for the C. V. Starr Center and Lecturer in History Dr. Pat Nugent, BSU Secretary Jaineil Johnson, BSU President Jocelyn Elmore, Vice President for Enrolment Management Dr. Lorna Hunter, Associate Professor of Spanish and Director of the Black Studies Program Dr. Elena Deanda, and Associate Professor of English and Director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House Dr. James Hall.

While there were 38 submissions, only eight of them were discussed by the panelists during the two-hour event.

While discussion varied based on the submission, the topics discussed included racism, homophobia, sexual assault, catcalling and harassment from passing trucks, mistreatment by the Department of Public Safety, campus inaccessibility, and general safety concerns on and around campus.

Panelists encouraged audience participation, providing students with the space to voice their concerns, further contextualize some of the submissions, or ask questions as they came up.

“One of the conversations we are having on the diversity committee is about accountability,” Dr. Deanda said.

“[I’m gathering] students don’t feel as if sexual assault allegations are taken seriously on campus,” Dr. Hall said in response to a submission about a convicted assailant being allowed back on campus.

“We are very hardcore with violations of the Honor Code, but we are not hardcore with accusations of rape,” Dr. Deanda said.

As the conversation changed from sexual assault to sexuality, the advice given from the panel did as well.

“You are not responsible for anyone else’s f***ing comfort,” Dr. Hall said on the topic of changing to make others more accepting. “Or their education,” he added.

“Everyone is trying to have the best quality of life you can,” Dr. Deanda said.

Elmore had advice about dealing with people who make you feel uncomfortable.

“You don’t have to be disrespectful, but you can turn it around on them,” she said.

“We don’t have to walk into a room and make other people feel comfortable, but you have to make sure you’re comfortable,” Hunter said, encouraging students to make sure that whatever their response is, it’s making them feel better.

The panelists offered encouragement and possible solutions to the submitted scenarios, and those brought up by the audience. They offered some quick-witted comebacks to rude individuals and motivating words to pass on.

The conversation changed again, this time panelists focused more on ally-ship.

“Someone said what needed to be said and it didn’t have to be me,” Dr. Deanda said about an experience she had at a party, where her friends rallied around her.

Elmore explained that because of the Honor Code, people are responsible for calling one another out.

“[The Honor Code] doesn’t just apply to classrooms, it’s everything ethical,” she said.

“I will have so many uncomfortable conversations on your behalf,” Dr. Hall said, encouraging students to go to him, or any of the other panelists, if they felt they could not speak up alone.

“As an ally, I have to make myself available,” he said.

“At Washington College, when you ask for a rally, people show up for a rally,” a member of the audience added.

Other panelists explained they also want to advocate for students who need it, but they can’t do that unless their told what is going on.

“As the president of BSU I want to advocate, but I can’t unless you tell me,” Elmore said.

“It’s hard to represent when you don’t know,” Hunter said.

“Nothing changes without your input, nothing changes without you standing up,” Leah Singleton, class of  ’01 and former BSU president, said. “Discuss amongst yourselves and get organized.”

The conversation pivoted again, the discussion focusing on organizing groups to make the changes they want to see on campus.

“Organize and know what levers to pull,” Nugent said. “There are a lot of [allies] on this campus.”

“Get people of difference together,” Dr. Hall said as the panelists encouraged students, especially white students, to join groups like BSU and Cleopatra’s Sisters and help organize.

“Please don’t get tired, because one day I will have to sit down, and I will need you all to stand up,” Hunter said, encouraging students not to give up and to continue to fight for what changes they want.

One submission expressed opposition to Kappa Alpha having a “Trump 2020” flag where all of campus can see it.

Dr. Boyd expressed the importance of making a change and taking action. He encouraged students with strong opinions to make a change. He encouraged students to vote, and urged that even if you could not vote, to make a change by spreading awareness.

“When is someone going to stand up for my humanity? Oh s***, it’s me,” Dr. Hall said, encouraging students to take initiative against injustices.

“So, what are you doing tomorrow? What sign are you going to hold up?” he said.

“You were heard tonight,” Elmore said at the panel’s end.

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