University students and faculty discuss race, inclusivity

By Bryan Boccelli

University students, faculty and staff gathered at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts on Thursday night to foster a more inclusive campus community. The event, #OneCampus: Moving Beyond Digital Hate, focused on the impact social media has on the way people interact.

#OneCampus was prompted by a social media outburst aimed at Chancellor Phyllis Wise after she decided against canceling classes due to extreme temperatures on Jan. 27.

Following the announcement of Wise’s decision, some students sent out negative, crude and even some racist tweets using the hashtag #fuckphyllis, which garnered over 700 tweets, according to Keyhole, a Twitter data tracking site.

Though unable to attend the event because of a prior commitment, Wise left the crowd with a pre-recorded speech to initiate the conversation about diversity in the campus community.

“Establishing a kind of inclusive and respectful environment requires constant attention,” she said, receiving cheers from the crowd.

Forum mediators Yoon Pak, associate professor of educational policy studies, and Christopher Benson, associate professor of journalism, began the discussion surrounding race, culture and gender diversity with words of advice for the campus community.

“We have to create an atmosphere where we do have a respect for differences,” Pak said.

During the event, audience members were also given the opportunity to speak about their own experiences surrounding identity and stereotypes at the University. 

One student recalled how she thought the social media posts about Wise were initially funny but quickly turned mean-spirited. Another raised the question, “We are Fighting Illini; what are you willing to fight for?”

Following comments from the audience, a panel, which included Pak, Benson, student body president Damani Bolden and three other students, spoke about what they believe should be done about hate speech.

Panelist Kimberly Arquines, senior in LAS, was one of the individuals who posted a negative tweet aimed at Wise. She wrote the chancellor an apology letter and was able to read it to her in person.

“I genuinely felt really bad about what I did,” Arquines said. “I wanted to apologize to the chancellor not just for my tweet, but for everyone else’s tweets.”

Tianjun Sun, another panelist and junior in LAS, said releasing anger by attacking an individual’s identity with negative commentary is never acceptable.

Bolden said the negative comments aimed at the chancellor were only the tip of the iceberg, and the conversations surrounding these issues are long overdue.

“Other individuals’ incidents of racism or misogynistic comments are just as important as the comments that were directed at the chancellor,” Bolden said. “The more conversations like this that happen — it is my hope — the more tolerant we will become as a community.”

As the event came to a close, The Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love,” played throughout the room.

Bryan can be reached at [email protected]