#OneCampus event and discussion a beginning, not an end, to addressing campus climate

By Daily Illini Editorial Board

More than a week after the University garnered national attention for some of its students making racist and sexist comments about Chancellor Phyllis Wise over Twitter, the community signaled it was ready to start a discussion.

In a town-hall meeting last week, some apologized for their or their peers’ actions, while others offered suggestions to improve inclusivity on what one student called a segregated campus. But these attacks are part of the  bigger cultural problem here on college campuses and elsewhere. 

Wise, in her Inside Higher Ed article, said she “shudders to think what might happen ‘if that type of vitriol were directed at a vulnerable member of the University of Illinois’ student body or University community.’” 

So, when will we move beyond just a discussion?

Thursday night was a start. The meeting, which Wise was not in attendance for because of a prior commitment, featured discussions from panelists that included respected professors and Student Body President Damani Bolden. Following that, students were offered an opportunity to voice their opinions either on the events that arose after the University didn’t cancel class Jan. 27, or other instances of discrimination or hate they have encountered or witnessed elsewhere. 

Perhaps, Bolden hit it on the head, saying the attack on Wise was just the tip of the iceberg and that these conversations were long overdue.

Many of these incidents happen on a day-to-day basis — whether the attackers hide behind the anonymity of the Internet, or choose to do so in person — yet are often unreported because of the perception that it’s an isolated or insignificant incident.

Add those up, and it can become a plague. Sure, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is not the only campus, or place for that matter, where racist or sexist attacks occur. But it needed to be addressed here — regardless of whether national outlets picked up the story.

“Diversity and inclusion are very important issues and it’s not me being over sensitive about it — (reacting is) the human thing to do,” said panelist Tianjun Sun, junior in LAS.

She is correct; reacting is the human thing to do. That’s why there’s potential for positives to come from the incident, even from those who tweeted some of the darkest things in Wise’s direction.

There’s potential for students, faculty and staff to learn to become better, more-informed, citizens and members of the University community — many reached out to Wise with outpouring support and heartfelt apologies in the wake of the incident.

Even after the campus was pounded by a snowstorm, a student took to the Quad on Wednesday to leave Wise a message: “Sorry, Phyllis.” 

But anyone can offer an apology, and anyone can admit regret. It’s the awareness and proactivity that will hopefully arise from these discussions that will heal and educate this campus — not just talking about these issues, and not just saying “I’m sorry.”

The next day at the meeting, a speaker told the audience, “actions speak louder than words.”

Indeed, last week was a start, but by no means an end.