I no longer believe in the old saying “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Words can hurt, intimidate and devalue not only the receiver, but the speaker as well. To rise against the demeaning power of hateful speech, a unity rally was held yesterday in the Brickyard. At 12:15 p.m. students took time between classes to gather in front of the atrium and unite against hate speech.
Vice Chancellor Dr. Thomas Stafford, Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion Dr. Jose Picart, and Student Body President Jay Dawkins were a few of those that expressed their thoughts about the hateful messages spray painted on the Free Expression Tunnel walls Wednesday morning.
Dr. Stafford said “today is not enough” highlighting the need for more action. He also said “Let us stand together, let us speak together in a loud and clear voice” and say “no more!”
Dr. Picart said the rally was a “show of solidarity against bigotry and violence” commenting that the university’s effort to unite is “what makes us a great university.” He said “The university stands against racism in all forms” and “there is still work to be done.”
Student Body President Jay Dawkins challenged students at the rally to acknowledge the equity of all human beings. “People deserve to be treated with dignity and respect no matter what. Can’t we rise to that?” he said.
He then asked students to join in a unifying “WOLF – PACK” call and response, in which most, but not all of the students in attendance participated.
Perhaps the most moving response was a passionate statement delivered by Dr. Tracey Ray, director of Multicultural Student Affairs. Dr. Ray reported the words in the tunnel Wednesday morning, and stood up yesterday to tell the campus that something must be done. “It is one thing to have free speech,” she said “What crosses the line is when you’re talking about shooting our president in the head.”
“That’s a felony,” she said referring to threatening the president. “We need to treat this as a crime, we need the names; we need them prosecuted!”
Some students found Dr. Ray’s response to be the most powerful. Student Genesis Atkins said “When she spoke it just moved me. It riled up something inside of me. Something has to be done.” She added that she felt the students’ words on the tunnel as well as other racially charged hate speech she’s heard stemmed from anger and fear after the historic election. “They’re angry because they can’t continue to hold people down. People only react out of hate because of fear” she said.
Even with all the statements, the painting over of words, the rally, and the signatures, I can’t help but wonder if anything is really going to change in regards to hate speech. Will our campus only be able to react when students decide they want to mark our campus with words that threaten and degrade another culture or even a person individually? Is there anything we can really do to change the minds and hearts of every single student on campus? Will there ever be a day when somebody doesn’t have something hurtful to say because they’re hurting? As minorities, how can we rise above the oppression?
Atkins says there is a way. “You have to be the one to stand up and say no. As long as we continue to fight it with pride, people will see it; they will see our confidence and our confidence will change the world.”