We’ve heard the excuses.
It’s just a photo. It’s not meant to harm anyone. It’s good for a laugh. And it’s nothing new — you see the same thing all the time in movies, on Halloween, on any given Saturday.
But if we think the now-infamous photo of Chi Omega sorority members dressed in ponchos — holding handmade signs that reduce a nationality to little more than a caricature — is the real problem, we’re missing the point entirely.
And excuses like the ones above only serve as convenient distractions from talking about issues that are much more uncomfortable than an ill-thought-out photo op.
Let’s stop trying to rationalize our way out of confronting an ugly truth: Penn State has a problem with intolerance.
From the conversations you hear in the HUB-Robeson Center to the crime reports where someone’s targeted because of their background or identity, this photo is not the first indication that we have a long way to go to promote a real culture of respect on campus.
This issue goes far beyond just sorority members in sombreros. All it takes is a look at the response this photo’s elicited from so many other students— many with no direct tie to the Latino community — who say they’ve experienced insensitivity or have otherwise seen it play out at Penn State.
A meeting held Wednesday night by the Mexican American Student Association was standing room only, also attended by members of the Penn State Student Black Caucus, the Penn State Chapter of the NAACP, the Latino Caucus and the Filipino Association, among others. Later, many of those at the meeting attended the University Park Undergraduate Association meeting to urge other students to take a stand in addressing ignorance at Penn State. UPUA initiated a diversity awareness task force, and we hope this becomes a sustained presence on campus. Other students are already trying to address intolerance through efforts in the classroom and events on campus.
But it’s going to take more than task forces to create real change.
What’s really at the heart of stopping hate is something that’s nearly impossible to mandate: self-reflection. We all could stand to take a step back and think a little more carefully about the words we use in everyday conversation, the environment we promote in our student organizations and — perhaps most difficult to reconcile — the times when we’ve known someone else was doing something insensitive but we didn’t have the courage to put a stop to it.
We may hail from different places, practice different religions, partake in different rituals, look differently, dress differently, act differently — but we are all people.
And if even a few of us on this campus feel unwelcome, we all have a role to play in questioning how we can change that. As a university community and as individuals, we can — and should — do better.
As hurtful as its message was, the photo was a good thing if only to get us to finally start talking about something we’d otherwise continue to ignore. The sorority members aren’t the only ones who need to use this as a teachable moment.