We must be in a season of bad judgments. Something is in the air. Is Mercury in Retrograde again?
From educators to celebrities and politicians to news anchors, the slip of insensitivity has forced our attention to address the cultural nuisances that are often hidden by societal attempts to get along and diversify.
Lest we forget, we no longer live in a world where thoughts and beliefs are private thanks to the internet. We are expressive. We are bold. We are challenged. Yet, we are insensitive and often care less about who we hurt or how we do it.
But then, you have leaders like University of Oklahoma President David Boren who had members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity kicked off the campus following the release of a video reportedly showing fraternity members singing a racist chant and then issued a bold statement on behalf of the university. I am not familiar with this Oklahoma community but I do know a great deal about communities of higher education.
Within higher education, the creation and cultivation of an environment of inclusion on college campuses is about strategic intentionality. It starts with the administration, faculty, alumni and professional mentors practicing and communication the integrity of inclusive excellence. Students must see that kind of leadership through transparency, and when they do, they will follow and then lead their peers to cultural collaboration and sincere acceptance with no apologies needed.
This kind of inclusive excellence was displayed perfectly in President Boren’s message. He did not issue an apology. He didn’t have to. He stood firmly and sincerely on what was intolerable and took immediate action.
He released this statement Monday morning:
To those who have misused their free speech in such a reprehensible way, I have a message for you. You are disgraceful. You have violated all that we stand for. You should not have the privilege of calling yourselves “Sooners.” Real Sooners are not racist. Real Sooners are not bigots. Real Sooners believe in equal opportunity. Real Sooners treat all people with respect. Real Sooners love each other and take care of each other like family members.
Effective immediately, all ties and affiliations between this University and the local SAE chapter are hereby severed. I direct that the house be closed and that members will remove their personal belongings from the house by midnight tomorrow. Those needing to make special arrangements for positions shall contact the Dean of Students.
All of us will redouble our efforts to create the strongest sense of family and community. We vow that we will be an example to the entire country of how to deal with this issue. There must be zero tolerance for racism everywhere in our nation.
David L. Boren
University of Oklahoma
When your organization faces public scrutiny at the cultural immaturity and insensitivity of its members, an apology may feel like a slap in the face to the public’s intelligence and to the character of those who were harmed. In these tense times, the public won’t easily accept an apology. Proud expressions of blatant bigotry cannot be matched suddenly with empathy for those toward which the hate is directed, especially when the evidence is not felt or perceived but it is visual and viral. The public will believe and internalize the initial expression to which they were exposed. This could happen to any organization, university, brand or individual. Boren took the high road – the only acceptable road in this case – and held his people accountable for their actions. Though his statement did not address whether the behavior of the students on the videotape is reflective of some deeply rooted, perpetually overlooked cultural issues on their campus, that too will soon be exposed to the public if it exists and has been allowed to live under his leadership.
More than a PR crisis, this kind of act represents a human crisis. What is most needed at the moment is the declaration of community, a recommitment to cultural acceptance, a call to social responsibility and a swift kick in the conscious.
No apologies needed.