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April 25, 2014
Vol. 55 No. 22

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Student panel offers open discussion on bigotry

Four Susquehanna students asked peers to hold themselves accountable for their words and actions Tuesday night during a panel discussion titled "It's Just a Word: The Power of Language of SU."
The panelists were Madeline Distasio, Candence Cannady, Jasmia Jarrett and Carly Husick. They discussed a broad range of topics dealing with diversity, including anti-Semitism and the swastika, disabilities, race, women's safety and sexual assault, how to foster discussion between students and professors in the classroom and what it means to be active and an advocate.
According to senior psychology major Cannady, the students on the panel were chosen by Lisa Scott, vice president for student engagement and success, because of their involvement in activism on campus and because they are all passionate about the acceptance of diversity.
The panel was presented by the history department and the Office of Student Life in an effort to talk about diversity and the lack of acceptance that has been seen on campus and to create an open discussion among students.
Distasio, a senior English major, said that one of the goals of the panel was to attract an audience that included students who do not usually attend advocacy events. In particular, Distasio said that the panel hoped to attract sports teams, which she said are often susceptible to discriminatory language in the form of locker room talk.
According to Distasio, she was approached to talk about the issue of hate speech because of her blog post about bigoted language at Susquehanna. She said that the open letter to Susquehanna that she posted included a list of prejudiced comments that she heard this semester by listening to conversations in popular areas on campus like Starbucks.
After compiling the list of what she called bigoted language, Distasio wrote solutions to the issue of hate speech and posted a link to her blog post on Facebook. She said that the post now has more than 15,000 views and shares, and she has received emails from alumni, heard from President L. Jay Lemons, peers and members of her high school and had professors teach classes using the blog post.
Distasio said that through her blog post and the panel discussion, she hoped to make people aware of what is being said and make sure that everyone listens and tries to stop hate speech. However, she said most people avoid listening to or confronting bigotry, because they don't want to hear it in the first place.
She said that bigotry is a "touchy subject" and is personal to many people, and it is therefore difficult to discuss. She said: "I've painted a picture of how these 'little' comments snowball into heinous hate speech. I hope to show that we all need to hold ourselves accountable for what we say."
Cannady, who spoke mainly about LGBTQ issues, also said that the panel was important because of the effects that hate speech can have on people. She said, "Everyone has experienced a time when they heard a comment and felt threatened or afraid to be who they are."
She also said that people don't realize how words can hurt or upset others, especially if they are used jokingly. She noted that people assume that when they say things in a joking manner, the words do not carry as much weight.
But according to Cannady, the manner in which a word is used does not change its meaning or effect. She said that a person can be listening to a conversation and hear one upsetting word, even if it is meant to be humorous. Jarrett, a junior psychology and sociology double major who
participated as a panelist, talked about what activism means and how to respond to bias and bigotry. She said that in order to stop hate speech, students need to educate their peers and tell them why activism is necessary. According to Jarrett, an audience member at the panel discussion talked about situations in
which people ask friends not to use a certain word because of its offensive nature and that it should be easy to stop using one word out of an entire vocabulary. This, Jarrett said, is an attitude that students need to have when addressing the issue of hate speech. Jarrett said that the panel was successful in reaching a number of students who she thought would be able to learn from it and react in a positive way. She said that many students attended the discussion for extra credit, but she said that it was interesting to see how these students who would not have been there by choice reacted
to what the panelists said. Jarett said: "I saw the compassion that students have and it was awesome to have it all in one room. We all feel the same way as
other students, but we're not usually together to share and discuss our thoughts." According to Jarrett, it is up to the students of Susquehanna to step up and educate their peers on what it means to be truly diverse. She said, "Susquehanna is too focused on the numbers and how 'diverse' campus is." She said that in order to foster acceptance, the Susquehanna community needs to work on eliminating negative actions and words by educating peers and removing false ideologies. She recommended that this be done through monthly panels or programs that teach students how to react to bias in a positive way and
be more active. Distasio also said that monthly advocacy events could be helpful in spreading awareness throughout campus by "creating heavy
discussion, attracting more people, and getting the conversation moving." Cannady commented on the progress of the advocacy movement
on campus. She said: "We still have a lot of work to do, but the number of people who showed up really shows that we have the desire and need on campus. My
goal is that Susquehanna will not be a place of tolerance, but a place that accepts diversity and all aspects of it. I want the next class's and the next generation's experiences to be better than mine."

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