On April 12, a Starbucks manager called the police to arrest two black men in Philadelphia who were waiting on a friend and hadn’t ordered anything. Since then the franchise has announced all of Starbucks’ stores will close down May 29 to hold an “implicit racial-bias training” for its employees.
Over the past weekend Syracuse University expelled the Tau chapter of Theta Tau Fraternity after some of its members appeared in a video that was, “racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, ableist and sexist,” according to Syracuse University Chancellor Kent Syverud.
In the video, one of the fraternity brothers made another member swear to hold onto hatred for minority groups such as African Americans, Hispanics and Jewish people and identified the groups using racial slurs.
Soon after the expulsion was announced, a second video surfaced showing members of the same fraternity participating in a video of equal poor taste in which members of the fraternity mimicked sexually assaulting a person with disabilities.
It’s no question that both these videos and the Starbucks incident were offensive in every sense of the word, even though the fraternity swears the videos were meant to be satirical.
But that’s not what the conversation surrounding the incident is about. The main question now is “What would our community do should something along those same lines occur on Elon University?”
First, it would be naive to believe these incidents do not already happen. In April 2017 — though it wasn’t the first time — someone reported and spoke up about racist-themed parties hosted by a fraternity and sorority on Elon’s campus. A month later, the former president of the NC Mu Chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity used a racial slur against a black student.
These are just two of the cases brought under a spotlight by Elon News Network. There have been documented incidents of racial slurs since 2011. The fact that these events happen on campus isn’t in question, but how we report them and the conversation surrounding them is.
Though discrimination is at the center of each incident, the conversation surrounding the events only ever seems to contain “prejudice” or “bias,” never discrimination.
Bias itself means to have a prejudice either for or against a subject. Prejudice has more to do with what a person thinks. Discrimination is the action of a person acting on their prejudices. The events at Starbucks, Syracuse and Elon were all situations of discrimination, not simply bias.
While bias is the most neutral term in addressing these situations, sugarcoating the language used to talk about it can do more harm than good by being an effective tool of dialogue.
Tiptoeing around the use of the word “discrimination” for the significantly subtler “bias” is a dangerous narrative to promote. Avoiding difficult conversations doesn’t get the point across, it’s not going to help people learn.
Bias and discrimination, while similar, still function on different playing fields and failing to use the correct term will not help students identify when to use them appropriately.
To address situations properly, students need to be able to identify the difference between bias, prejudice and discrimination. And avoiding the seemingly harsher terms will not accomplish that.
Yes, it’s necessary to be sensitive as these are sensitive topics. But there is a difference between being sensitive and not wanting to engage in the proper dialogue.
There is a time to be direct. When there is a clear instance of discrimination, it’s important to call it such. Bias and discrimination both have a place in the conversation — it’s time we address them properly.