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Student body can't ignore other 'F-word'

Revising harassment policy will help, but students must share responsibility

by The Pendulum,
  • Rachel Southmayd, Opinions Editor

The F-word is ugly. No, not the four-letter one, but the other one, a once harmless British word meaning "bundle of sticks." If you're waiting to see it printed here, keep looking because you won't find it. In today's society, it is an ugly, offensive term and should be treated with the same level of scrutiny as the N-word, and fortunately for everyone out there who feels the same way, Elon University agrees.

Here at Elon, rumors are as common as squirrels. When there were whisperings about students being punished by the administration for the use of the F-word, we jumped on it. Why wasn't the student body made aware? Who decides what's worth sharing or not? How do these incidents differ from the racial slurs at the beginning of the semester?

Smith Jackson, vice president and dean of Student Life, said students are alerted about harassment or similar incidents when they can help apprehend the suspects involved, like someone shouting a racial epithet from a moving car. An alert is also put out when students need to protect themselves, like if a person wielding a gun was spotted on campus, or if the harassed student wants the student body alerted. 

In recent issues involving the F-word, the victim didn't want the specifics shared, and all judicial proceedings for these types of issues happen behind closed doors. Jackson said this procedure prevents "re-victimizing" students who were the subject of any type of attack, be it physical, sexual or emotional.

The problem with these steps is that many people in the student body, and perhaps even among the faculty and staff, don't know how unacceptable the F-word is on this campus. That Not on our Campus slogan doesn't just refer to the N-word, or at least it shouldn't in the minds of those who proudly tout it. Instead, it should stand for intolerance of any disrespectful language or behavior toward any group of people based on who they are or how they identify themselves.

The university agrees, which is why the harassment policy is being amended. And while the events from this fall have been a catalyst for speeding these changes up, Jackson said this has been under consideration since last summer. He also said the university was influenced by changes in federal statutes and something called the "Dear Colleague Letter" from the Department of Education, which discusses the obligations schools have when responding to sexual harassment and sexual violence under Title IX.

These changes will be encompassed in a new website, which will explicitly list what is punishable and what that punishment is, according to Jackson. There will also be additional training for faculty and staff and the topic of harassment will be addressed at New Student Orientation. In addition, two new faculty positions are being created to specifically deal with discrimination and harassment-related issues. And these are great steps, as long as Elon follows through and enforces these punishments equally across the board.

But the administration can only do so much. At some point, we have to remember there are 5,000 undergraduate students on this campus with 5,000 different opinions and 5,000 different ways of expressing themselves, some of which include offensive language. We have to be the ones to stand up to one another and say, "No, this is not OK." As a cohort, we have to police ourselves. If we don't, we run the risk of becoming desensitized and insulting scores of people who don't deserve to have their way of life tarnished with ignorance.

"Unfortunately, we don't get a lot of reports about (the use of the F-word)," Jackson said. He added, though, that he's sure it's happening often, and calls it "not OK" since it isn't necessary and can be harmful.

Increased vigilance from every corner of campus about the F-word and any other forms of disrespect is surely the only way we can battle this as a community. Jackson said after this new policy goes into effect, the university will probably see an increase in the number of incidents that are reported, but this doesn't mean more are actually occurring. It just means less people are getting away with it.

Next time you hear the F-word or the N-word or anything else you think is offensive or cruel, say something. The use of offensive language that is degrading to others is unacceptable at Elon, and that's the way it should be.