Open letter to: Cameron Murphy, ASUN Graduate Senator
Your recent invocation of racial slurs at the Association of Students of the University of Nebraska (ASUN) Senate meeting in an attempt to defend freedom of speech has disappointed, saddened and disturbed many graduate students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We, the Graduate Student Association (GSA) executive committee, believe your decision to use such language in debate, no matter the reason, does not represent the interests of the graduate students at UNL.
While we recognize the importance of freedom of speech, we do not believe that the resolution which you spoke against posed a broad threat to that freedom. Also, it is reprehensible that while speaking against that resolution you found it necessary to use offensive language hurtful to members of UNL’s student community, many of whom you represent. Furthermore, we believe that defending the use of terms like the n-word and Negro through historical contextualization, rather than displaying your sensitivity to issues concerning racialized language, displays ignorance regarding the historical context from which this language emerged. Likewise, we assert that any attempt to defend such language also represents an attempt to, by design or accident, absolve the systems of violence, labor and discrimination from which these words and their meanings arose. The use and public defense of such language is conduct unbecoming of an ASUN senator and a UNL graduate student.
With your recent behavior in mind, the GSA executive committee urges you to resign your position as a senator in ASUN. We believe your behavior has made it impossible for you to adequately represent UNL’s graduate students.
Jacob K. Friefeld, President
Anh Do, Internal Vice President
Christopher Gibilisco, External Vice President
Kat Shultis, Chair of Finance
Madeline Hoffer, Chair of Representation
Brock Rezny, Chair of Legislative Affairs
Curtis Walker, Chair of Social Events
Following the recent debate on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus over the use of racist language, as an alum of UNL I am saddened and troubled by these issues. While I attended UNL, I saw what was possible of students engaged in the pursuit of higher education. For some members of the student body, education was not apparently the goal.
Amongst the things I encountered was the understandable outrage after it came to light in 1997 that a UNL fraternity burnt a cross as a part of a ceremony held off campus. The university administration of the time was reticent to do anything to sanction the fraternity involved, due to the event occurring off campus. I joined with others and spoke out very loudly, but after a time of dialogue and listening, the fraternity was not sanctioned in any meaningful way.
Age and hindsight applied to the situation, I can see that the administration’s hands were tied, limited by law, rules and fear of litigation. Some of the dialogue that came out of the fraternity and its defenders were the suggestion that the members didn’t know of the association of cross burning and the Klu Klux Klan. Ignorance, like misery, loves company.
I wish I had the answer for what ails the spirit of some in your student body. Know that it exists in the broader population. Ignorance and cruelty have been with us for a long time. I will tell you this: When faced with ignorance and the casual avarice of people who were just “joking” or being “politically incorrect” or trying to make a point, DON’T BACK DOWN.
I’m not saying you need impeach the ASUN member whose use of racist language (quoting Chris Rock according to media reports). Know that the U.S. Constitution protects citizens and the media in particular, from having the Congress limit their freedom of speech. Past that, your speech has consequences, for good or ill.
James A. Zank
Class of 1998
Nebraska City, Neb.