Editor's note: This story was modified on Nov. 21, 2013, to reflect the correct field of study for Sen. Cameron Murphy.
After lengthy debate, including a racial slur-laden speech by a senator, the Association of Students of the University of Nebraska passed a resolution Wednesday pledging the senate’s support to remove derogatory language from its members’ vocabulary.
The legislation passed with 16 senators for, 6 against and 4 abstaining from the vote.
The resolution was submitted by Sen. Claire Eckstrom, a senior fashion design major. Sen. Cameron Murphy, a graduate student in nutrition, said he did not agree with the resolution because he believed it would hinder free speech.
Murphy cited comedian Chris Rock as an example of why some words are not offensive. He recited one of Rock’s routines, which used the N-word.
“But what’s a n-----?” Murphy said after quoting Rock. “A n----- is black trash. There’s white trailer trash also.”
“What’s offensive to one person may be innocuous to a group of others,” Murphy said. “For example, the Mexican-American students complaining about (Homecoming Week) skits. They said they were offensive because they were wearing sombreros — really, that’s offensive?”
While giving an anecdote about being called a “cracker” in Cincinnati by a man asking for money, Murphy was interrupted by Sen. Annie Himes, a junior global studies, history and Russian major.
“It’s not OK for you to do this,” Himes said.
But Internal Vice President Kaitlin Coziahr, a senior economics, finance and management major, told Himes that she wasn’t allowed to interrupt another speaker during debate.
“Restricting speech is bad,” Murphy said. “It starts at phase one, and there’s no turning back from there. Calling a black person a Negro is a term of endearment — that didn’t used to mean anything wrong, it’s Spanish for black. To restrict speech is inherently evil.”
Murphy also attempted to amend the resolution to say senators will “attain” derogatory terms into their vocabulary, rather than “remove” them, as the resolution was originally written. His amendment did not receive a necessary second senator to move it to a vote.
Before Murphy’s comments, he asked Eckstrom for examples of the type of derogatory terms that the bill suggests should not be used. Eckstrom said phrases such as “that’s gay” and “that’s retarded” would be examples of the terms she hears students use regularly.
“These are hurtful to me, and I know a lot of people don’t mean it to be offensive,” Eckstrom said. “But think how it might make those groups feel.”
Senators had mixed reactions to the resolution. Some believed that passing it would be repetitive to the non-discrimination clauses that already exist in the ASUN bylaws.
“I’m not sure if we need this with the non-discrimination clause already in place,” said Jeff Story, the external vice president and a junior English and political science major. “They state that as an association, we will not use those terms and will not be discriminatory toward other students.”
Others thought passing this resolution would be a good starting place for bigger plans.
“We’re representing the student body,” said Sen. Jessop Adams, a law student. “We’re not just held to what we believe. We’re held to what we want our students to exemplify. It’s a good exclamation point to that.”
Sen. Kevin Knudson, a junior political science major, said the resolution was a Catch-22.
“We shoot it down and look like we’re not for ending derogatory language, or we look like it’s like this big large show (if we pass the resolution).”
The resolution ultimately passed, but the votes were mixed.
“I figured there would be discussion about the restriction of speech,” Eckstrom said. “I remind everyone that this isn’t restriction of speech — this is about how we want to exercise our free speech and choosing how we’re going to exercise our right in a respectful way.”
Additionally, senators unanimously passed another resolution submitted by Eckstrom in support of a philanthropy called the St. Nick Project. ASUN will adopt a low-income, rural Nebraska family and collect money from within the senate to buy Christmas gifts for them.
Senate Speaker Tanner Nelson, a sophomore agribusiness major, said he was in support of the project.
“We’re here for more than just passing bills and resolutions,” Nelson said. “We’re here for other people.”