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Casual racism on campus: Wardroom Wu-Tang Night sheds light on larger issue

To our readers:
Over the past few days, we’ve been facing a rather difficult ethical dilemma.
Given the reaction to the original post discussed below, we were asked to disable comments on this article.
We aren’t. Here’s why.
As journalists, our duty is first and foremost to our readers. But in dealing with sensitive issues like the ones this article addresses, we must also take into consideration one of Bob Steele’s Guiding Principles for the Journalist: minimize harm.
In publishing stories like this, however, our aim is to allow our reporting to create meaningful change and spark productive, free-flowing discourse; something we believe higher learning institutions such as King’s should also strive to foster.
For many, we understand this decision may not be palatable. We also realize that sometimes, decisions made with best intentions in mind produce unwanted results. This is a risk we are willing to assume.
To recap: comments on this story are allowed. They will be heavily moderated and subject to review before being made public. Personal attacks of any kind will not be tolerated or published. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.
Please know this decision was not made lightly. All sides were consulted and input from all involved parties was considered throughout the decision-making process.
This decision was a tough call to make. It may be an unpopular one. But it’s not one we shied away from.
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The Watch Executive
[box type=”info”] Content Warning: This article refers to posts and comments, some of which may be found offensive, made on an event page for Wu-Tang Night that was set to be held in the Wardroom Monday night. [/box]

(Photo: Flickr/Steve Marshall)
(Photo: Flickr/Steve Marshall)

Julia-Simone Rutgers wanted to start a conversation about systemic racism on the King’s campus. When the second-year journalism student posted an open letter to the Wardroom on the Facebook event page for Wu-Tang night, the conversation that unraveled was very different from the one she intended, but it was not surprising.

 Rutgers is one of only a handful of racialized students at King’s.

“The key issue is that students from marginalized communities really can’t afford to access education here,” she says, “and a night like Wu-Tang night really highlights that.”

That’s why less than 24 hours before the scheduled event on Monday she addressed a letter to the Wardroom staff opening up about how the event could be harmful.
“The community as a whole can often forget about the tiny group of marginalized students on our campus.”

The racial slurs echoed in the songs by an almost entirely white student body would have an effect on the safety of King’s spaces, Rutgers says.

“It’s a result of the fact that King’s does not foster inclusivity on a grander scale.”

In March, the Wardroom held a similar event: Kanye night. Since then, Rutgers has been in touch with other racialized students about their mutual concerns.

“The conversation is about systems of oppression on our campus and how we can push back against that,” Rutgers explains. “I don’t think that everybody has gotten the opportunity to think about that critically, and that’s why we see disagreements.”

Cancellation Concerns

Twelve hours before Wu-Tang night was scheduled to start, the Wardroom cancelled the event on social media and made a sincere apology. Aidan McNally, President of the King’s Students’ Union – which runs the Wardroom – says the decision was made after consulting with Wardroom staff and KSU executives.

“The Wardroom decided to cancel the event to take pause and reflect on how we can plan events in the future that are safe and inclusive for all of our students,” says McNally.

Rutgers, who serves on the KSU executive as Communications VP, agreed that cancellation was a “smart choice.”

But others disagreed. In response to Rutgers’ letter, posts to the Facebook event argued that the Wardroom was “cowardly” and infringing on “freedom of speech”. Although many commenters were supportive of Rutgers speaking up, others attacked her personally. She thinks this is a result of opinions that have existed for centuries and unfortunately persist, and says it isn’t the first time it’s happened to her.

“Free speech,” says Rutgers. “People always use that to justify hate speech, and in the grander context of oppression in our nation, racial slurs are hate speech.”

The KSU has a responsibility to ensure that that the bar is a safe space for everyone – it’s even in their mandate.

“It should be self-explanatorily more important than a person’s right to harm someone else with their words,” Rutgers says.

Going Forward Together

McNally says the KSU and Wardroom recognize this isn’t an isolated incident, but they are working to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

“This is not a response to a one-time thing,” she says, “but that this event which happened within our community that points to the larger problem of systemic racism.”

The Wardroom staff will be receiving anti-oppression training, and McNally says the KSU is committed to getting input from racialized students’ voices going forward.

“What this event looks like is going to be informed by discussions that we have with racialized students,” she says.

McNally and Rutgers both admit they don’t know what the solution looks like yet. The KSU plans to host a public forum, says McNally, “where students can go and ask questions, and where we can – in conjunction with the racialized students on campus – have a conversation that’s addressing racism and cultural appropriation on campus.”

For Rutgers, the process starts with education to fix the lack of understanding that created Wu-Tang night and Kanye night in the first place. There needs to be a more productive conversation, one that can “highlight the fact that these issues are existent at King’s,” she says, “which I think some people might overlook in face of the fact that King’s is such a wonderful liberal arts school where we try to be inclusive.”

The Watch originally reached out to the Wardroom for comment and was re-directed to the King’s Students’ Union. The Watch also made attempts to interview one of the opposing commenters but those who were reached declined.

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