Too often, it takes a high-profile incident to get us thinking about what kind of danger our words can do. Otherwise, we skirt around the issue. We brush off the insensitive comments made by friends in casual conversation. We laugh at hateful jokes that clearly wouldn’t be funny if we were on the other end of the “humor.”
When police say a Penn State student, just last week, had an “offensive, threatening slur” hurled her way while walking across the West Halls quad, it’s clear we need to talk. The comment, police said, came from a voice shouting out of a nearby window. If identified, police said the person responsible could be charged with harassment or, potentially, making terroristic threats.
This incident is, by any account, disappointing and embarrassing. The sadder thing? It’s nothing new.
Last year, the State College Police Department was called to Beta Sigma Beta fraternity, 255 E. Fairmont Ave., after a “Nazi flag” was found rolled up in a party tent on the property. The fraternity is historically Jewish.
The year before, police said a student swung a knife at another student near Locust Lane, after confronting him for speaking Spanish and teasing him about his heritage.
That same year, an interracial couple who were Michigan Wolverine fans attended a football game at Beaver Stadium. But instead of enjoying the game, they endured disgusting taunts — the wife said she was called a “n— loving bitch” by some sitting nearby.
Penn State Student Black Caucus President Ryan Brown said it well when he said it’s a “sad reality” that incidents like the recent one in West Halls still occur. But hate also doesn’t always manifest itself as an openly “offensive, threatening slur.”
It’s an ethnic stereotype slipped casually into conversation. It’s those jokes made about someone’s religion. It’s using words like “gay” or “retarded” to describe something we don’t like.
It’s all of those comments we brush off as if they’re nothing. They’re something.
Because of indifference, it’s not a surprise that these horrific incidents are still happening at Penn State. We see it on the television and in comedy routines. We see it in movies, and we hear it in music. We’re, at some level, desensitized to this inappropriate behavior.
But that’s no excuse. We should be better than this.
The impact of words is huge — which means we have the power to use our voices to combat hate. Next time you hear someone make an off-color comment, tell them to stop. Stop and think on your own, too, before you let a derogatory term slip from your mouth.
Until we get over our indifference to the hateful words sprinkled into our everyday lives, incidents of hate at a larger level will persist as a “sad reality” at Penn State and beyond.