Are Universities Giving Hall Passes for Hate?

I’m the last person who thinks that there’s a substitute for common sense. You can’t get it in a book on tape and you sure as hell can’t teach it in school.

Common sense comes from fucking up.

If you sit down and actually look at our legal system, our legislation is driven purely from past fuck-ups.

We can’t own slaves. (Fuck Up: Colonial America)

We can’t/can sell alcohol. (Fuck Up: Prohibition Era – that shit didn’t work)

We can’t discriminate based on gender, disability, sexual orientation, marital status, creed or race. (Fuck Up: America, pre-2009)

We can say pretty much anything we damn well please (Fuck Up: Oppressive British law)

We’re all seen as equals under the law (Fuck Up: anyone who pissed off/on the Founding Fathers)

When one of my Twitter followers contacted me last week about the tragic suicide of a young Rutgers student, I fell face-first into a series of emotions. Emotion pie. There were so many colossal fuck-ups that I didn’t know where to begin. Today’s post is a journey through fucked-up thoughts.

What’s “Different”

Back when I was still in school, I didn’t pay attention to “different.” I was different. I was a goth nerd (yes, that’s a picture of ME). Some of my friends were obviously gay. And it was cool. They were…well, they just WERE. They sat at our lunch table, hung out with us before and after the bell and crammed into someone’s car when we all decided to stay out past curfew.

They were the same. I’m sure other kids treated them like shit, but they were “with us.” They were safe. They were our friends.

But here’s one thing I’ve come to realize as I’ve gotten older: kids are mean.

Kids can be evil little assholes. And they don’t have a lick of common sense.

When I think of these two kids (because that’s what they are – KIDS) from Rutgers who thought it would be balls-out funny to webcam broadcast a young, gay student’s private moments across the social mediasphere, I’m wondering where we went so wrong in the development of today’s youth that this would even be considered as acceptable.

These are kids who have the smarts to get into a university that turns down over half its applicants but seem to have jack shit in the line of common sense.

And they turned out to be mean.

Before I go any further, I’ll say that assholes happen. No university can prevent the assholes. But maybe this is one fuck up that can help universities (and parents) deal with the assholes before they stop thinking and start acting on their assholian nature.

The Onus

Having left corporate America back in 2006 (for good), I can still remember Diversity Training. Seriously – the videos are laughable and the quizzes following even moreso. But the sessions did one thing quite well: they made you think twice about what you said and did, because the dude holding your paycheck wasn’t essentially saying he had no desire to deal with a lawsuit brought on by the next asshole who wanted to tell the receptionist she had a great rack.

So if universities are charged with shaping today’s undergraduate population for roles following graduation, isn’t it common sense to think that there should be some diversity training in that process?

Freshman orientation is a load of crap, no matter what university you attend. But I’ve learned something pretty interesting from having two criminal defense attorneys as copywriting clients this year:

Most college students are completely unaware of the Code of Conduct that rules their school.

Here in Denver, both major universities can expel students for merely being accused of a crime. A DUI can be deadly to a student’s career – and that’s alcohol.

How about Invasion of Privacy, kids? Just because you share a room or a wall with someone – that doesn’t give you the right to act like a fucktard.

So If We Can’t TEACH Common Sense…

I say that the universities in this country – and perhaps worldwide – need to sit up and take notice. I’ll bet that the entire Board of Regents at Rutgers has assumed the fetal position complete with thumb sucking after Tyler Clementi’s tragic suicide. And it appears that the University might even be more culpable as it was revealed today that Clementi sought a room change after the initial incident.

Hello, Rutgers, institution of higher learning with lowered standards.

We’re a nation that recently passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act on October 22, 2009. That was less than a year ago. And I’ll bet if you sat down with Darun Ravi and Molly Wei (the alleged co-conspirators who broadcast Clementi’s sexual encounter via webcam), they wouldn’t be able to tell you who Matthew Shepard is…was…or what his death meant to the non-heterosexual community. And that’s a fucking shame. Because apparently, we’re still a nation who cares more about what goes on in bedrooms that aren’t ours than about the basic human rights that a long history of fuck-ups has set into legislation.

I’m thinking that since the average cost of a college education runs between $20-$30+k per year here in the U.S., that it’s time for universities to start the education process by understanding that the following (by and large) comprises their freshman classes:

  • Kids who have never lived away from mom and dad
  • Kids who have never done their own grocery shopping
  • Kids who have no fucking clue what they want to be when/if they grow-up
  • Kids who will, invariably, make some epically stupid decisions over the next four years
  • Kids who don’t understand what it means to be responsible for their own success and failures because they’re coming from a sheltered environment.
  • Kids who come from diverse cultural backgrounds who don’t necessarily understand or relate to those who are “different.”

If universities can understand these six things, then the logical addition to the freshman orientation process would be what corporate American already understands: diversity training is necessary.

Corporate America gets that there are assholes in every bunch. When will universities understand the same and actually sit down and explain a Code of Conduct to the student body? $20k+ is a shitload to pay for daycare, and I’ll venture to say that the rules are better explained (and better enforced) at daycare than in college.

Not a Panacea

Last week, MTVNews was covering the suicide and chimed in with me on Twitter for my thoughts on their article, which posed the question whether laws could have prevented Clementi’s suicide. I say no law can prevent anyone from doing anything (given the inmate overcrowding epidemic nationwide, I’ll refrain from further substantiation). New Jersey lawmakers have even introduced a bill to up the penalty for Invasion of Privacy. But if the death penalty won’t deter murderers, how will this law deter stupid kids?

We can do our best as a society to raise awareness and get our noses out of other people’s business. Who I fuck is MY business, so long as they’re of age and consenting. Maybe that should be a slide in the diversity training process, showing that the water cooler isn’t stationed next to anyone’s bed. Who we love, relate to, embrace or shun – it’s our business and ours alone. Frankly, you can be intolerant of anyone you choose. I’m intolerant of the dipshit in front of me in line at the grocery who holds me hostage in the cell phone scream-off with her boyfriend.

But when your intolerance brings harm…when you cross the line from your beliefs into someone else’s life – and one that most likely does not affect you in any way, shape or form…you’re going down. Laws are there to act as a deterrent for those with a sense of common sense and to penalize those who didn’t have any.

Graduate to a New Level of Responsibility

Universities – step to the plate and stop waiting for the lawmakers to do something that isn’t going to help your cause. Who’s going to come out and say that they’re not going to take any shit from the next incoming freshman class? These kids are on your turf. Start acting like you own the place, because one day, my kid’s $20-30k+ a year is going to be worth just as much as the intolerant little asshole of a roommate you assign him or her. You can’t help it that the kid’s an asshole.

But you can at least do you part to say what will and will not be tolerated on your campus.

In Closing

I love my friends and I don’t care who they’re fucking, in love with or dislike. They’re my friends. I’ve only got 37 years of common sense in me and respect the fact that these kids in this whole unfortunate mess only had 18. But now, one of them doesn’t have a chance to get to 37, and that sucks. Laws won’t stop this from happening again, but we’re a nation with a history rich in fuck-ups. We need to remember our fuck-ups. I’d be curious to run a quiz and see how many high school seniors know who Matthew Shepard is and why he’s important. He died after being mercilessly beaten, tortured and tied to a fencepost – left to die. Because he was gay.

Maybe kids need to see the crime scene photos to understand what death plus two kids serving two consecutive life sentences looks like.

That’s one helluva picture, ain’t it?

Erika Napoletano About Erika Napoletano

Erika Napoletano is the Head Redhead at RedheadWriting LLC, a Denver-based online strategies consultancy. Her blog, RedheadWriting, is a bastion for "unpopular thoughts and blunt advice - delivered" and consistently strives to say what others won't and don't (but should) about marketing, social media, business integrity and life in general. She's a guest blogger on such popular outlets as Copyblogger, one of the most widely read RSS feeds on the web and was named in Social Mouth's 7 Examples of Kick Ass Personal Branding. You can follow her on Twitter (if you dare), check out the hoopla on her Facebook Fan Page or discover what it's like to be Bitch Slapped (a recurring weekly feature on her blog) at www.redheadwriting.com.

Comments

  1. >> When I think of these two kids [...] who thought it would be balls-out funny to webcam broadcast a young, gay student’s private moments across the social mediasphere, [...]<<

    We should be able to remove the word "gay" from your write-up, Erica. I know you're hopped up (and rightfully so) but this is not just a "gay" thing by any stretch. With a college freshman of my own away from home for the first time, I know that likely any such invasion of her privacy – regardless of who with – would devastate her, as well. Fact is, a friend of mine said, "No one should be driven to this" – and he was right. Does it matter if my friend was gay or not, or if who he was talking about was gay or not? …of course not.

    FWIW – I do not think of it as a Hall Pass for Hate. Changing attitudes is much better than passing laws. If these students had to travel around and give presentations at Universities, or even High Schools, about the results of their actions, they would make a much bigger impact than any punishment they receive "judicially" in terms of being prosecuted with criminal sentencing. Just saying…

  2. DarkTouch says:

    How to react. I mean clearly there is the Hell Yeah! about Tolerance and respecting others and a deep sadness that one kid is dead and not just one kid. People fuck up and if we don't learn from it well.. what are we doing as a society.

    The only thing I keep going back to is the invasion of privacy being correlated with a kid getting beaten and left to die. I can't look at the events of the one and see the hate that was so obvious in the other. When you're pounding your foot into a helpless body what other outcome are you expecting but death? When you film someone I can see a side where it is a joke and I can see a side where you're trying to socially destroy someone's standing.

    The end result of course is the same. I can't know motivation obviously but I can't bring myself to disregard it completely either.

    • I don't know the answer either, but the comparison stands as both incident were prompted by hate. Would Matthew Shepard have died that night if he had not been gay? Would Clementi's roommate have been inspired to webcast a straight couple having sex?

      Jokes require permission from both parties if the joke is going to be accepted. Otherwise, it's plain cruel. And this was, indeed, cruel.

      Common sense? Lacking. Soooooo lacking.

      • DarkTouch says:

        Well yes very much lacking but that is going to take a lot to change. Why do kids go to 'party schools'? College is to learn but it many colleges serve the secondary function of being a place where kids can do their stupid things in a place where they can sow their wild oats and it can get swept under the carpet. My freshman year in college (oh so long ago) my roommates were busted twice for the smoking of the pot. The whole system was designed to give them a slap on the wrist so they'd get a taste of authority and learn to hide it better when they got out into the real world.

        I'm not going to argue with you about the cruelty of the joke as clearly it was. By comparison however I would contrast it with the 'twitter bed' joke where the best man attached a twitter poster to the newly married couple's bed. It was eventually turned off when all that activity led to a baby. Was this joke less cruel? Because they never found out? Because this was a het couple? Because the couple didn't commit suicide?

  3. I couldn't help but think about the fact that we hadn't made it to the one year anniversary of the legislation being passed either. While I understand the previous commentors statement, and yes, if something like this was done to many people, the mere invasion of privacy would be devastating, tragically so. We must bear in mind the hateful motivation which set this series of events in motion.

    Universities definitely need to take a firmer stand, enforce the rules they already have in place and stop being so mealy mouthed when it comes to these situations. It is intolerable. Higher education is a necessity in today's world, but we must be able to trust the institutions we send our children to.

    • Hey Shawn – good to see you :) Maybe people don't really understand what "invasion of privacy" is. It's almost come to be a "cry wolf" phrase, when it is, in fact a very real crime.

  4. Every single day that an old blue hair with outdated backwards views dies, is a day for moving forward in society's attitudes changing towards sexual orientation. Harsh, but true.

    Although I can see universities adopting diversity training, the cynic in me sees them only doing it for the sake of limiting liability and not because they truly believe that it will assist in stamping out intolerance and bigotry. Who cares about the motive I suppose?

    Attitudes are changing. I can see it with my daughter and her peers. I see them as carrying the torch for making intolerance intolerable. They will be the ones that truly kick down the door towards equality. Unfortunately, until then people will continue to die in shame. And that's shameful.

    Great post Erika.

    • So intolerance is OK as long as it is reserved for people that do not agree with you, is that what you are saying? Don't get me wrong, I am just not sure you can see the irony/contradiction in your own post. My only point would be that many of those "Blue Hairs" had their own prejudices to overcome – and granted maybe they have not come as far as you might like, but some of them may have fought some seriously hard battles to get you to your priveledged position of not being able to wait for them to die… Why not change their hearts and minds – not being able to wait for anyone to die off really is not an attractive position to take (and likely one closer to those you disagree with). Just saying…

      • Good point, BobbyC, but I guess Mr Toy With Me and I have seen a lifetime of trying to change people's minds. It doesn't work very well. Even God let the grumbling Israelites die in the desert because they were so stiff-necked. But don't give up hope. Work on the next generation.

        • I understand the frustration of "trying to change people's minds" (honest!) but it does not mean we should give up (not saying that is what you are saying). Don't give up hope is exacly the right message. Thank you.

      • >>>>So intolerance is OK as long as it is reserved for people that do not agree with you, is that what you are saying?

        Not sure where you are getting that from.

        Bigotry and hate towards others will never be wholly solved by discussion and classes that teach tolerance. Blacks didn't get to sit at the front of the bus because the white man went to sensitivity training. These problems are solved not because the "institutions" are having the discussion, but because the new generation is having the discussion for them.

        The institutions are in the kids rear view mirror when it comes to progressive thinking.

        Not to say that leadership from Universities isn't helpful, far from it. But the bottom line is that with generational change, comes the type of sweeping change we have seen in knocking down the doors of oppression.

        I could tell my mother how fantastic my new gay neighbor is. I could leave her pamphlets that sing the virtues of equalities for gays. I could tell her the story of Matthew Sheppard, but she would still be mortified at the thought of two men marrying and I regard her as a kind loving soul.

        • Nothing serious, but when you call someone "an old blue hair with outdated backwards views" it shows (again – IMHO) a lack of tolerance. "Tolerance" in many places no longer means diversity of opinion; it means "embrace my politics and beliefs or else," by too many people. I will absolutely apologize now if you believe I am pointing this attitude wholly at you Mr Toy (I am not), but I think I see a hint of it in there. I am sure we agree much more than disagree, but we should always be on guard that we are not representing the very thing we despise (however well intetioned). I do not absolve myself from (probably) being guilty of it on occasion – again – however well intentioned…

          • My grandparents were "old blue hairs." And lovely people. But not the most tolerant people. I think a gift we can bring with each generation is a new level of understanding but not one that goes the Minority Report/Gattaca route. Y'know?

            Times change, people change. Hate is still hate.

  5. I've had two women (former friends) tell me it's wrong to fuck my girlfriend because she uses a power chair and a ventilator. I just wonder how many other people think that.

  6. By the way – Chris Burgess has a great post on this very subject today: http://www.veritate-et-virtute.com/2010/10/online

  7. justjen68 says:

    It made me *sick* to hear about another death caused by hate and cyber bullies. When I was in school, I don't remember people picking on the gay/bi kids. And I was one of those bi kids. I hung out with straight kids, gay kids and bi kids. My niecephew is a MTF Transgender, and has known since she was 13. I have a picture of her, as a boy, dressed in a red skirt, halter top and silver platform heels. Would I go post those online with out his permission? No. Would he mind? I doubt it, but still. Aren't these kids in college to LEARN? Not to spy on their room mates and post videos of them. I hope the law punishes the kids who did this to the full extent of the law.

    • I hope that if nothing else, this tragedy bring to light the onus placed on Universities. Expel for a DUI – lay down the limits on what kind of fucktardery will not be tolerated when you're a student at this institution.

  8. "… kids are mean." – indeed they are. Even the lucky kids who have never been bullied, harassed or taunted, have likely witnessed it. And as mean as kids have always been, in this – the age of the Internet – the relentless assholes and incomparable fucktards have unprecedented opportunity to multiply the humiliation factor exponentially.

    Tolerance is not about forcing someone to accept or embrace others' values as your own. It is about recognizing and respecting the rights of every single human being to live as he or she chooses. It is about understanding that what makes us different pales in comparison to what makes us similar.

    If universities were truly the incubators of liberalism that some claim, there would be far more emphasis on teaching students how to be human. Diversity would be celebrated rather than vilified. Compassion would reign supreme. Empathy would be heralded as the ideal. And acts of violence & malice – both physical and emotional – would be met with swift and substantial consequences.

    Matthew Shepard and untold others suffer & die because society has failed to instill the one fundamental principle that matters most – basic human decency. Rutgers University not only failed Tyler Clementi, it also failed Darun Ravi and Molly Wei. This is not the first time a young life is cut short by the blade of intolerance and hate. Nor will it be the last.

  9. I recently went to the NYC Marriage Equality March with my best friend (who happens to be a lesbian). It really got me thinking about people in general. I also got married last month to a black man (i'm white), and how if this had been years previous I would never have been able to marry him and even now…we still have to be careful where we move to. It's all very dishearting on a whole. I wish we as a country would have moved past this already.

    But utlimately I think it comes down to the parents (not necessarily the universities) if the parents had taught the kids tolerance and acceptance maybe this would never have happened. I think that we as a country depend too much on schools to do the work that the parents should be teaching. It all depends on what we teach our kids and remember it's not always what we say but how we act as well.

    • Parenting can't be denied. But in an age where many have substituted parenting with the US school system…how will the system shift responsibility back to the parents? Or should the school system step up and say – fine. If you won't do it, we will?

  10. The truth unfortunately is that no matter how progressive thinkers there are, there will always be people like this–people who think it's okay and acceptable to perform acts of cruelty. It is never okay, it is never funny and it is never acceptable–and yet I wouldn't be surprised if the individuals who drove that young man to suicide are absolutely bewildered or–worse–proud of what they've caused. What's even worse is they're probably not going to get anything more than a slap on the wrist. Absolutely abhorrent.

    • I'd beg to differ. These kids are going down, and in a big way. The publicity + the fact they're no longer juveniles…equals toast. And I think it needs to happen. And I think, like our other commenter said, it needs to be part of their sentencing to tour and speak on why they're in prison.

  11. First and foremost………….AMEN!!! Fantastic blog! Secondly, not only should Universities take responsibility but so should the fucking parents! It is THEIR responsibility to take the assholiness out of the fucktards before they even get to college! As a FORMER teacher, I am sick to death of all the excuses! It is NEVER the kids fault and furthermore, it is NEVER the parents fault. It is the teachers and administrators and society. People are never responsible for their own fuck ups anymore. Bring back the paddle!! My only comfort is knowing that one day these kids will be out and alone in society with no one to help them but themselves. IF they get there without other fuckups fucking shit up for them!
    Love the article!

  12. Well said and thought out. Much to think about. I would also like to throw out something I’ve figured out in the past few years as a college professor (we had a seminar on the Y2K generation). Kids today? Do not know consequences. At all. This generation has been told since they were in peewee soccer at age 3 that they are awesome and winners no matter what. Lose a game? Get a trophy anyway. Get caught stealing? Damn video games are to blame. Cause a suicide? Oh it’s society’s fault. Seriously, they haven’t a clue about consequences. Because they van sneeze and someone applauds them – YouTube is nothing but a giant trophy for these “winners”.

    • Consequences…man, did you hit the nail on the head with that one, Kristin. It shames me that we’re a society that’s come to reward mediocrity so that achievement means nothing anymore. People of all ages need to learn to own their actions, bottom line. Thanks for stopping by.

  13. Best post I have read….

  14. There's a saying, "tolerance is the virtue of the man who has forsaken all others."

    Only one person took Tyler Clementi's life, and that was Tyler Clementi. Other people may have caused him great embarrassment, but he escalated it into self-harm. That speaks of far greater hatred of himself than anyone else ever showed him.

    Suicide is not restricted to homosexual teens. Too many teens reach the conclusion that their life has insufficient value to continue with it and I want to know why.

    When I was growing up I was generally the odd one out of the group (autism spectrum can do that to you) and I remember being lonely enough that I went to a Burger King drive through at 1am just to hear a human voice, but I never lost the belief that my life had transcendent value. Any obstacle could be overcome with faith and hard work.

    I think the thing that philosophy bred in me was a sense of perspective. I don't think young people (or even older people) have such a view. When you're the centre of your world every setback becomes a major tragedy, while if you keep a realistic view that you're one of six billion people, many of whom have had similar or worse experiences to yourself, each setback simply becomes an obstacle to climb or a burden to carry.

  15. i just heard on a PBS program about happiness that, contrary to what most people believe, the young are the most unhappy, and the older you get, the happier you get.

    basically it amounted to the wisdom afforded by passing years giving people the perspective they needed to appreciate what they have.

  16. Bullseye. Thanks for stating this.

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