It’s true that it’s not uncommon to come across insensitive or derogatory comments — about those of different races, genders, sexualities and so on — from Penn State students.
But just because it’s prevalent doesn’t mean we should accept it.
This time, it was the president of the Interfraternity Council, a student leader representing one of the largest groups in the Penn State community. The tweets in question were sent in October when current IFC President Chip Ray was the IFC executive vice president. He was elected as IFC president on Nov. 27, 2012.
The issue of intolerance extends further than one person in the greek community.
And as we all know, this is far from the first time we’ve been reminded that diversity is an issue at Penn State. In December, the now-infamous photo of Chi Omega sorority women dressed in ponchos — holding handmade signs that reduce a nationality to little more than a caricature — went viral, prompting many students and others to call for more attention to addressing insensitivity. In April 2010, then-University Park Undergraduate Association Student Life and Diversity Chairman Noah Karn came under criticism after he tweeted derogatory references to various cultures.
There have also been frequent reports throughout the years of crimes in which someone’s race or background is a factor, not to mention plenty of comments made on a daily basis that seem harmless to those who are saying them but are actually incredibly hurtful.
After each public incident flares up, all we hear is lip service from student leaders calling for reform. But soon afterward, these plans seem to take a backseat to other causes.
A few days after the Chi Omega photos received criticism, UPUA created a Diversity Task Force and brought groups like the Mexican American Student Association, the Latino Caucus, the Graduate Student Association, the IFC and the Panhellenic Council together to discuss ideas. Since the Dec. 7 meeting, there have been no formal subsequent discussions, which is unacceptable.
Twelve members of the task force presented a statement to the Faculty Senate on Tuesday.
Brian Aynardi, a graduate student and faculty senate representative, said “Cultural awareness should be a requirement, and we need your help to incorporate a sustained education on it.”
The task force presented senate members with ideas to increase diversity awareness on campus, such as re-evaluating existing diversity courses and increasing multicultural events. Senate attendees responded positively to the task force’s proposal and offered support.
After “significant discussion,” the IFC executive board “unanimously determined” that Ray understands the tweets were inappropriate, according to the council’s statement. If Ray is going to continue in his role, then students deserve more than an apology from him and the IFC. We’ve heard plenty of apologies when it comes to diversity issues. What we have yet to see is real change or discussion that lasts for more than a few weeks. The IFC and Ray need to demonstrate real plans for addressing diversity issues moving forward, as they’ve said they would.
Diversity intolerance is very much a student problem on campus that goes beyond the greek community and needs to be addressed at a student level. Student leaders are supposed to lead this process and need to set an example for others.
Those students who have remained active in the diversity task force and other similar movements are doing important work, but they can’t be expected to go at it alone.