It’s Time for Whitworth to Confront Hate Speech

by Rosie Brown

Is Whitworth as wholesome as it seems?

Two weeks ago, Whitworth claimed the No. 2 ranking in “Best Values in the West,” according to U.S. News & World Reports. According to the article, this is Whitworth University’s 12th consecutive year holding a spot in the top 10 in this category. Yet, in light of “the university’s commitment to excellence,” as Executive Vice President Michael Le Roy said in the article, I must ask: how great are our values on the individual level?

Whether it is the small talk heard in the coffee shop, the conversations over dinner in Sodexo or the roommate banter over a game of Call of Duty in the dorms, the ears of the average Whitworth student have become familiar with the sound of hate speech. You gasp, but I repeat once again: hate speech exists on campus.

By definition, hate speech refers to any speech that belittles and demeans an individual or a group based on their race or color, ethnic background, sexual orientation, gender, religion, nationality and the list goes on. How many of us, who are proud to call ourselves Christians, or at least “good people,” are guilty of uttering racist jokes? Or for using “gay” to describe an action, an object, or even an individual as unpleasant and undesired? I know I am no saint.

Some of you may think I am arguing that we are not politically correct enough. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I believe that our society has become too obsessed with the idea of being politically correct and tolerant. The result of this stagnant situation is that we as individuals have become unresponsive to the cries of the voiceless for equality and compassion. While we as a student body joke that this university is better-named “White-Worth” due to the majority of a certain racial identity on campus, it takes only one pair of eyes to see that this is most definitely not the case.

Whitworth is privileged to have students from all over the world, representing about 30 different countries this year alone; from Bulgaria to Moldova, from Ireland to Madagascar and from Canada to Hong Kong. It is undeniable that the Whitworth community has an amazing opportunity to learn from the students who are here, confronting the unknown obstacles that a foreigner may face in American society.

Ignoring the international categories, the Whitworth student body consists of students from extremely diverse backgrounds: students from farms with little to no contact with their neighbors, to students who were born and raised in the inner cities and the ghetto projects. There are students from sunny, arid climates who have never seen a snowflake in their entire lives, to students from right here in Spokane.

This being said, how can we, as a community, insist that Whitworth lacks diversity? How can we, as responsible citizens and representatives of the No. 2 school in the west for “Best Values,” stand to hear such uneducated and demeaning slander against our fellow peers, classmates, roommates and best friends?

I propose these solutions.

1) Let’s start with me. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” In writing this article, let it be known that I am starting with me. I have made a pact with myself to change how I speak. I encourage you to join me in this challenge. Humor can be enjoyed and communicated through other methods than hate speech. Let us challenge ourselves to become more witty and clever comedians by not laughing at the expense of those who may already feel unappreciated because they are also under-represented.

2) Listen. Part of why hate speech is so easy to partake in is because, generally speaking, American college students have a tendency to enjoy talking and sharing more than they do listening. I have one more challenge that I would love to invite you to participate in with me: every time you are tempted to make a comment that could be making fun of a certain race (i.e., “That’s because you’re Asian, huh?”) or religion (i.e., “Wearing a suit on the fixie [fixed-gear bike] today? You look like a Mormon”), stop and listen. Speak with love, not sarcasm. I know it’s hard; I am fluent in sarcasm myself. But just because it is cool and funny to be sarcastic, does not mean that it is right.

3) Take action. I beg and plead – do not be lazy! My worst fear is that you will read this, recycle the paper, then remain unchanged. I hope that you will realize the weight of this topic and its significance to a surprisingly large amount of students and faculty on campus, that you will dare to start courageous and cultivating conversations with each other, and that you will notice that you can make a difference. Give the voiceless a chance to speak; give the oppressed the opportunity to be free. There are many programs that will happen throughout the school year to encourage the Whitworth community to be proactive and pursue justice and equality. I hope to see you there.

One last thought. Because our mission at Whitworth University is to “honor God, follow Christ, and serve humanity,” may I leave you with a thought from one of my favorite books: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).

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