By Max Olin
On April 4 some seniors and I, under the name “Concerned Students for Policy Change,” put up two posters all around campus. One of the posters said “Beloit College doesn’t care if you say the word nigger on campus” and the other said “nigger.” What was interesting was how two different demographics responded to the posters.
The “Beloit College doesn’t care…” poster drew the attention of the college’s administrators while the student body focused on the n-word poster. A number of students had not seen the “Beloit College doesn’t care…” poster and judged our entire movement solely by the n-word poster. Students proceeded to question the productivity of trying to advance our movement by using the n-word poster.
We were pleased to be making progress with the administration, but we were a little disappointed at aspects of the students’ initial response. Instead of focusing on the content of our actions, some students were hung up on the shock value methodology that we had decided to use. They were unable to transcend their initial feelings of discomfort. The argument that there was no context to our signs and that, in general, people would agree with us without needing to be inflammatory were valid criticisms. So, in recognizing these criticisms, we agreed to give students more context by posting a “press release” via stuboard on Tuesday, April 5.
However, this accommodation to the aforementioned criticisms went unnoticed since students continued to take down our new signs on April 6. These new signs had students’ testimonials written on them describing situations in which they had experienced hate speech. Our question now is: are we being targeted because of the tactics we have employed, or are people actually opposed to policies creating closure to incidents of hate speech?
While we are glad that people are talking about hate speech, we are fearful that some students are distracting others through suggesting tangents to the larger campus conversation. If you want to be a true member of our movement, then join our efforts and be part of the change. Critiquing from the sidelines will not help build a strong coalition for policy change.
What we as a campus need to focus on is that we cannot consider ourselves an institute of inclusive excellence if acts of exclusive dissonance continue to happen. The college needs to take a stand against hate speech. Students need to develop the maturity and skills to self-regulate social situations in which hate speech arises. The main problem at heart here is that there is no structural support from the college and no cultural support from the students to effectively combat racist, homophobic, and discriminatory actions. Forget about the methodology; that was a tool to get your attention. Now, we want you to rally with us to solve this central problem. We have the power to change as long as we stay focused and put aside the trivial details.