On Nov. 22, a local radio station (Star 98.3) broadcasted a show that focused on St. Mary’s campus events, yet the radio personalities’ lack of empathy and misunderstanding of the issues illustrates the overall problem our society is currently facing: college students are often treated as unintelligent, naive, and inexperienced. In addition, minority students are still facing verbal and anonymous attacks, yet conversations intended to alleviate these threats have not been as effective as I hoped they would have been. College students are faced with the overarching issue that our society lacks productivity in the sense that many do not have the ability to have respectful discourse in regards to students and campus issues.
The hosts of the broadcast, T-Bone and Heather, claimed to have received an email from a campus member that contained an audio clip of a professor’s controversial remarks made at the campus-wide forum last spring. Using this as a building block, the radio personalities posted the Sanctuary Petition to their Facebook page to open a discussion from the community on the letter.
I was frustrated, to say the least, by a majority of the comments on the Facebook page regarding the Sanctuary Petition. One of the most unsettling comments made was: “That college is nothing but a bunch of artsy fartsy freaks that live in their own little stoned world.” This type of comment is ridiculous and immature. If someone is truly interested in making a difference and creating a positive impact and change within the community, this type of response is pointless. Yes, it is just a Facebook page looking for comments on the overall situation concerning the petition, but calling students “freaks” demonstrates the lack of empathy, respect, and understanding of one of the true issues of our society: the safety of minorities.
Last semester, St. Mary’s held a campus-wide forum to discuss issues of race and safety among our community. The radio talk show hosts, T-Bone and Heather, described the forum as being a recent response to the campus-wide fire incidents along with the appearance of a confederate flag at a sporting event, both of which occurred last semester.
However, the campus-wide forum, A Time to Pause, took place in early April and was orchestrated by President Tuajuanda Jordan. President Jordan called for all students, faculty, and staff to attend so that the entire campus could come together as one united community. It focused on addressing the racist, sexist, and homophobic remarks painted on beer cans for the annual Natty Boh Hunt as well as the progress of the fire cases – which only occurred in one residence hall, not throughout the entire campus, a fact that T-Bone and Heather failed to clarify when evaluating the impact of these events.
The Natty Boh Hunt, an annual event where students organize and participate in a scavenger hunt of beer cans, was dishonored last year when a group of unnamed students wrote racist, sexist, and homophobic remarks on the cans and hid them around campus. These harmful comments created an unsafe and tense situation for minority students, and the forum aimed to address the overall concerns of those affected.
At the forum, a few alumni spoke to the importance of keeping campus traditions. I was pleasantly surprised at how many alumni attended the discussion, and even more pleased by the ones who spoke up. Their attendance proved to me that St. Mary’s is a tight-knit and caring community; alumni came back to the college to show their support, and I couldn’t be prouder to be one member of this family.
Alumni attendees said that despite the inappropriate behavior, St. Mary’s traditions shouldn’t disappear because of these incidents. It’s up to the students to keep these traditions alive, but they must be done so with respect and care for fellow students. The representations of hate and disrespect that the cans displayed cannot be ignored, which is another reason why the forum was held. Yet the radio show didn’t mention the event as one of the causes for A Time to Pause.
In addition, the show played an audio clip in which a professor stood up at this open forum and told “straight white males” to sit down and let others “who are truly suffering” speak. While I deem this behavior unacceptable and a contrast to the overall message of the open-forum, the way T-Bone and Heather covered the story was also inexcusable. They concluded that the entire campus felt the same way as this professor. A straight white male disagreed with coverage of the forum: “Initially, I was distraught. I felt oppressed based on my skin tone and gender identity. However, I realized this was an educational experience. This was the way many minorities felt in situations where their opinion is outnumbered. Everyone’s opinions are valid, but sometimes affirmative action is necessary to have an outcome of equality.”
T-Bone and Heather continued by claiming the professor intended to say that straight white males have nothing to suffer about, yet I think they misconstrued the point. From my perspective, the professor intended to say something along the lines of: Since minority students are the ones who have been targeted, the forum should give them priority to speak on a platform where most students, faculty, and staff will be able to listen to their concerns.
Statistically, there are more white students than minority students on our campus; according to St. Mary’s Student Diversity Statistics for Full-time Undergraduate Students report by the Office of Institutional Research, as of Fall 2015, 72.2% of students enrolled in full-time undergraduate studies were white, and only 25.3% were minority students. (2.7% were documented as an unknown race/ethnicity, and 0.9% were recorded as foreign.)
In my experience, the white students speaking up were not demeaning or disregarding the minority students who spoke; in actuality, everyone who spoke up at the forum seemed to be trying to be respectful and open to suggestions of how to help make the campus a safer place.
The forum’s goal was to give the entire community a safe place to connect and share their concerns, yet telling a certain group of students to “sit down” defeats the purpose of having an open and accepting environment for discussion. The meeting needed to bring all members of the community together, not suppress one group’s ability to speak. The professor’s comments were counterproductive. Yet, if we have learned one thing from these comments, I hope it would be that we should empathize more with minority groups. Some white males were shocked, even angry, when they were told their opinion didn’t matter, yet that is how most minority students are treated on a daily basis.
Having a community discussion subsequent to the forum should be encouraged, if not enforced, yet the radio show’s form of condescending, immature, and ignorant rant does nothing to help improve the overall issue the community is facing, which is a lack of understanding and empathy for minority student’s struggles on campus.
Too many times I have been in a conversation with an adult and they have said, “Well, you’re just a college student, so what do you know?” College students are often invalidated by people who don’t understand that college students have their own well-formed and intellectual ideas. The lack of respect and empathy people have for college students and campus issues doesn’t make sense to me. While some student’s ideas may be progressive and new, that doesn’t give outsiders the right to dismiss them. The comments made by the radio hosts show just one example of utter disregard and dismissal of campus activity and issues. T-Bone and Heather tried to name St. Mary’s students as unintelligent and lazy racists, which is simply not the case. The complete lack of understanding results in a miscommunication and it reflects worse on the hosts, not the college like they intended.
The St. Mary’s campus is infamously known for being in its own “bubble.” This, in part, is true: our primarily liberal campus is located in a very conservative community who, mostly, do not share the same viewpoints and opinions as we do. Therefore, I understand that the county community and college community will have varying outlooks on our society’s issues; however, if nothing else positive comes from the story resurfacing, I hope that these incidents have opened the eyes of members from each community to the ideas and beliefs of the other. The goal here is to be more empathetic and understanding of each other, and we won’t reach this objective if we tell any groups to “sit down.”
T-Bone and Heather continued to demean the St. Mary’s students with claims that they are too immature and incapable of making any positive progress, especially in terms of the Sanctuary Petition. Yet, various other college campus members around the country have been circulating their own Sanctuary Petitions, including Harvard, Yale, Brown, Johns Hopkins, Oberlin, and University of Wisconsin-Madison.
T-Bone and Heather asked for listeners to call into the radio show to comment on the recent petition, and expressed shock that no one from St. Mary’s administration had contacted them yet with any comments on the story. However, a Faculty Senate Resolution was passed unanimously on Dec. 1, stating their support for the petition through a solidarity letter.
The resolution recommends “that the College register its support for the safety and security of all students, faculty, and staff, including those who may lose legal protections. We propose that the College join the Sanctuary Campus movement by offering the following assurance: Unless compelled by law, St. Mary’s College of Maryland will not enter into any agreements with federal, state, or local law enforcement agencies for the purposes of enforcing federal immigration policy or forms of discrimination that contravene our values.”
The radio personalities suggested that the campus administration is condoning and supporting the petition and are even responsible for it. In fact, the college administration has neither condemned nor approved of the petition. St. Mary’s administration has not released a statement. The petition, available here, was distributed by students and other campus community members, not the administration, like the radio show claimed.
Considering my argument is focused on the way the radio personalities portrayed the campus, it makes no difference whether or not I support the petition. My intention is to bring to light the ignorance of the radio personalities and to offer my support to the campus. T-Bone and Heather were the ones who were disrespectful and uninformed about St. Mary’s, not the students.
T-Bone and Heather made accusations without fully comprehending the truth and reality of our campus. They made generalizations about our students that made my heart break; they said that all the students do is sail and say we’re going to change the world, but we don’t know anything because we’re lazy racists.
Another memorable comment from the Facebook petition post on T-Bone and Heather’s page was: “Idiotic. A word not used often enough for a generation teeming with stupidity.” Why is a generation who fights for societal changes coined as “idiotic”? There are numerous cases in history where positive changes have been made partly as a result of people rallying behind their beliefs and opinions because they disagreed with the policies and laws in place. Society moves forward due to new ideas. Having respect for one another is key, however. Progress cannot be made if an entire generation is deemed “idiotic” by the very people who raised it. This ignorant generalization of our generation is what I consider “teeming with stupidity.”
As a proud student of the college, it was frustrating to listen to folks who knew nothing about the true nature of the college convey information incorrectly. It was extremely unprofessional the way they mocked the students and deemed the entire campus community “racists.” By claiming we have “a completely racist campus” in a “more conservative community,” they deemed the college as an adversary.
I consider St. Mary’s my home, and I’m honored to be a part of the community. And since I know many others feel the same way, we need to stand united against comments such as the ones made on the radio show and on their Facebook posts; for example, this distinctive comment: “Somebody please educate these kids. Clueless, Progressive and Liberal is a recipe for disaster. Lord help us.” If T-Bone and Heather truly wanted to start a discussion about what is going on at St. Mary’s, they should not have been uneducated about the issues. My initial reaction to their coverage of our campus is the same reaction I had when I heard the professor telling straight white males they couldn’t speak: restricting conversation only hinders growth and impedes progress. Degrading the students is counterproductive.
My intention is to bring the campus’ attention to the remarks made, and I hope we can become stronger together, support those targeted, and prove these accusations wrong.