Empathy. Understanding. Decisiveness. These are a few of the terms evoked by the leadership of University of Oklahoma President David Boren in his swift action to reject and correct the racist behaviors put on display by that campus’ now-former chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE).
At a time when it is so much easier to stand in the shadows, making excuses for racism or acting as if it isn’t as acute as it really is in the United States, as polls show, Boren is appreciated not only for aiming directly at the perpetrators of a racist chant, but also those across the country who are misusing our right of free speech to cause even more damage in an already unstable racial climate.
“I have emphasized that there is zero tolerance for this kind of threatening racist behavior at the University of Oklahoma,” Boren wrote in a letter announcing the expulsion of two students involved in the ugly display. “I hope that the entire nation will join us in having zero tolerance of such racism when it raises its ugly head in other situations across our country.”
It is no secret our society has been shaken by the recent acts of injustice and inequality vis-à-vis Ferguson, Staten Island or Sanford, Florida, to name a few communities. From the widely publicized murders of young black men in the United States, to the equal rights of women, to the ongoing social justice battles in the LGBT community, the question of what it means to be a free and equal citizen in this country is being raised anew.
But with the ongoing battles has come a rising tide of advocacy, which makes it easy for me, as an African-American to champion black issues. But what about champions who are not black or marginalized? Should we look askance at those who pass out flyers and march? Should we give a side-eye toward those hyped to fight for the concept of freedom more than the particular instances of racism? This is not a critique but an acknowledgement that passion for a cause can lie in the unlikeliest of individuals, and we should take advantage of those who are willing to fight for social justice in the name of humanity: In our quest to be seen, this is a moment, as shown by Boren, to say, we see you, too.
Social media might be the most prevalent way to show activism 140 characters at a time, but Boren shows how to truly take a stand in simply doing one’s job. It is time our intolerance for racist and bigoted behavior becomes as unwavering and passionate and exciting as those young men who chanted away in the video.
Historically, college campuses have been the sights for key moments in our racial development as a country, and to this day college and university campuses continue to deal with racial incidents that deter students from focusing on their primary goal. Yet, they are also the sites for change as young adults in this country have set the stage for how we view one another as human beings.
Anyone who has felt conflicted about advocating for an experience they have not lived can look to those who use freedom as their guide: Everyone who believes in the equality of humanity is expected to be an advocate regardless of their race, creed, gender, income or religion. Like David Boren, we should all be so vigilant to take a stance for who and what we represent in a manner that moves our communities forward.