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Kelly Yu / Gavel Media

Addressing Racism on Campus Requires More Than Just Education

“They just need to be educated.” This is a phrase that circulates through this campus more often than I would like. I have witnessed and experienced three racist incidents since I have been at Boston College. One per year. With each racist event, a similar pattern follows: a singular student or a group of students target one minority student or a collective group, there is outrage from the community and allies, administrators remain silent as students are left to deal with the aftermath themselves, and then it fizzles out, only for the cycle to restart a few months later. 

Another common feature of these hateful incidents is the call for education over consequences, claiming that comments made toward minority students are made solely out of ignorance. White students call for leniency and ask for those who have been affected to show mercy to the perpetrators, asking to think about how they must feel. In the days following the incident during the perspectives class, many people on Herrd posted about how the student must be “scared” at all the negative attention he was receiving and how revealing his identity would not be as effective as a module on racism would be. 

Education on sensitive topics such as racism is important and should without a doubt be used when correcting that sort of behavior. But the efficacy of this method is limited, as you can only educate those who want to be educated. If someone is so steadfast in their ways and believes something as outlandish as there being no modern-day effects of slavery, no amount of Canvas EDUs will change their minds. Completing a required course cannot ensure a changed mindset. A racist student can fake their way through a lesson, pretending to take in all the information, and then directly contradict it with their words and actions in the same week. 

This also places a burden on students of color to always have to be educators when they face bigotry. Instead of being allowed to feel anger and resentment, they are always expected to be the bigger person and calmly tell those who affected them what they did wrong. True educators, such as professors, have the duty of taking the time to dissect a bigoted statement when it is uttered during a class. They should not stand by as a first-year student of color has to defend their livelihood. 

Another issue with the response to bigoted speech is the focus of attention. In the case of the student in the perspectives class, others were so preoccupied with protecting his identity that very few were sincerely concerned about the well-being of the Black students in the class and other students of color who those comments could apply to. The person who said the hate speech is infantilized and coddled by their peers while affected students are pushed to the sidelines, their pain trivialized. It happened my freshman year with the MLE floor, and it is unsurprisingly happening again this semester with the recurring hateful speech in classes and residence halls. 

A part of this may come from self-preservation; many students would hope that if they said something ignorant that others would take the time to correct them rather than ostracize them. Sometimes, white students who call for education have been the ignorant person who had to be educated. But people need to understand that there are repercussions to their actions. We might as well give up hope that the administration will act, but social repercussions are almost guaranteed. Although those with discriminatory views can educate themselves and unlearn this type of thinking, those affected by offensive comments cannot forget their feelings. The experience of being targeted by comments that degrade their existence while the administration and other students let the comments go unaddressed will continue to weigh on this person. 

No matter what you think the correct response to hate speech on this campus is, it is evident that administration is not vigilant when it comes to creating a welcoming environment for its students of color, and it does not explicitly prevent such behavior from happening in the first place. We as a student body also have the responsibility of fostering that welcoming environment by calling out hate speech when we witness it, and not putting the feelings of bigots over the well-being of minority students. 

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