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It is on each of us to be anti-racist and hold others accountable, not just student leaders

By Thresher Editorial Board     9/14/21 10:06pm

The use of racial slurs by college students toward their peers is a problem that permeates across college campuses all over the country. The Rice community is no exception. When students say or do racist things, specifically toward other students, there is usually outrage, and rightfully so. However, in most of these instances, the immediate response is to look to student leaders, namely diversity facilitators, for a reaction. While DFs are well-trained in productive mediation and conflict resolution, it cannot fall on just them and other student leaders to provide accountability. If we, as a community, are serious about being anti-racist, then it is on all of us to hold our peers accountable.

This is not to say that there is no place for student leaders to provide accountability when racial slurs are used on campus. Wiess College is currently attempting to amend their constitution to include a clause banning hate speech. But there is only so much that leadership, be it student or administration, can do to prevent hateful speech.

Rice University Policy 830 on Discrimination and Harassment defines hate speech as any act of harassment that incites “imminent criminal activity” or contains “specfic threats of violence” toward a person based on their membership to a protected class. Additionally, the policy specifically states that it does not cover speech that is “ordinarily” considered constitutionally protected in an educational or public setting. 

Rice’s hate speech policy can only go so far. If the administration cannot implement certain restrictions for legal reasons, it goes to students to hold one another accountable; but the onus cannot just be on DFs and other student leaders. Facilitators can host events to help educate students, but it takes students, including those not directly impacted, to actively engage with these opportunities.

Instead, as students, we have the responsibility to create a culture in which the use of racial slurs is considered unacceptable. There are simple steps students can take, such as calling out their peers if they ever hear racist speech being used, and encouraging others to do the same. But that alone won’t solve the problem. We need to be proactive in letting our peers know that hateful speech won’t be tolerated, and create an environment where this is understood by everyone. All of us need to do better in responding in the moment, not relying on DFs or student leaders to take action after-the-fact. 

We as individuals need to create a culture on campus where being racist in public spaces is met with swift consequences, not just from student leaders, but from peers. 

Editor’s Note: Thresher editorials are collectively written by the members of the Thresher’s editorial board. Current members include Savannah Kuchar, Ben Baker-Katz, Ivanka Perez, Nayeli Shad, Talha Arif, Morgan Gage, and Daniel Schrager.

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