College campuses are lively explorations of just how far youthful exuberance can take rebellion against political correctness. While we diversity professionals emphasize that slang and snarky jokes do not translate across cultural boundaries, we're fighting an uphill battle with many of these students. Concerned for their future, my colleague Terry Howard directly addresses the far-reaching impact for students tempted or lured by peers to participate in racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise potentially offensive behavior.
Terry begins by asking a hypothetical student to imagine a typical day with this scenario.
You roll out of bed, glad to be awake since you've just had a horrible dream. But the problem is that it's not a dream... it is a reality! It all started when you and your "boys" (or "girls") decided to drive across campus late one Saturday night after a wild party with lots and lots of cold beer, wine, and a few joints. Your intentions were just to engage in some "innocent" fun. That's all.
"Hey (N-word), take your butt back to the ghetto," shouted one of those in the back seat, a comment directed towards a black student exiting the library. Everyone, including you, roared in laughter.
That comment was followed fifteen minutes later with, "Hey fa--ot, we don't want AIDS spread on our campus," directed at two men walking towards a dorm by a drunken occupant in the front seat. Again, loud laughter ensued.
"Yo Osama, is that a bomb you're hiding in that backpack?" yelled out another occupant. The recipient stared back in shock.
"Hey (B-word) wanna come to our party," you asked the two girls walking along the sidewalk. Amid the laughter, someone in the car tossed out a condom toward the young ladies.
Okay, all in fun you thought, just boys being boys, right? Not so fast!
Then came Monday morning when you received a text message from the Dean of Students requesting you to come immediately to his office. Well unbeknownst to you, someone caught some of your Saturday night "fun" on camera, your loud voices and all. Despite your denials, when the Dean played you the video there was no doubt that the car was yours.
"Unfortunately because of your behavior, you are immediately expelled from this University. We will have someone from security escort you back to your dormitory and assist you in packing your bags. Sorry this turned out this way, but your behavior is inconsistent with our values and expectations of students on our campus. Good luck in your future endeavors."
Terry then asked our student to imagine packing and heading home as these questions come to mind:
• How do I explain all this to mom and dad, my wonderful parents who worked hard all their lives to fund my college education?
• How will my parents explain what happen to the rest of the family, especially after their talking with so much pride about my academic accomplishments?
• Will my brothers or sisters have to fend off hurtful jokes and comments from their peers about me because of what took place?
• Would I want my name plastered on the front page of major newspapers and throughout the internet because of what I participated in?
• Do I want to make the evening news on CNN, NBC, Fox News and ABC?
• Do I want my parents to wake up one morning to find people picketing their home with signs bearing the words, "bigotry is learned at home"?
• Will my expulsion hamper my chances of transferring to another school?
• What do I say to a potential employer who wants to know why I left such a fine university?
• Will my behavior have a negative effect on my university's brand and hurt its long-term ability to attract potential talented students from different backgrounds?
• Although I know deep down inside that I am not racist, sexist or homophobic, are these the brands I will have to bear for the rest of my life?
• Would I have said these things to people face to face when "my boys" weren't around?
• If I am fortunate enough to land a good job, how will this incident impact my ability to work with - or for - people we offended that infamous Saturday night, especially if they somehow are aware of what happened?
"Chances are that you'll find yourself in a situation where you must make a choice: to go along (even if know full well that it is wrong and not who you are), or just do what is right. Yes, your intention is one thing, but the consequences of the wrong choice can be far-reaching and devastating. You're much better than that. Why ruin your life and negatively impact the lives of your loved ones with a mindless act of stupidity?" Terry asks, "Why not just choose the road less traveled?"
Great words of wisdom for students! And they're not so bad for the rest of us. Thanks, Terry.