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Students call private GroupMe texts ‘hate speech,’ demand authors’ punishment

Screenshots of a private online conversation among a group of North Carolina State University students that used the n-word and criticized Black Lives Matter were posted to social media, prompting the campus to erupt in controversy and calls for the students involved in the conversation to be punished.

The issue took center stage at a recent campus Racial Climate Town Hall, during which students also called for more initiatives to address what they contend is latent racism on campus.

Brayndon Stafford, the university’s student body vice president, told The College Fix that students want more administrative intervention, such as “cultural competency training” and diversity programming, as a result of the incident.

What’s more, “students demanded that some form of disciplinary action be taken against the students involved in the group chat, often equating the comments made in the group chats with hate speech,” The Technician campus newspaper reports, adding that “many students disagreed with the administrative decision to not punish the authors of the messages.”

Chancellor Randy Woodson said he could not do that, noting “I understand the implications of not holding people accountable for comments that are clearly racist, clearly bigoted and clearly derogatory and hurtful. …. The bottom line is it didn’t rise to a level of a code of conduct issue, and people disagree with that, but that is the legal standing of the current interpretation of all of our federal and state.”

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The text messages took place between a few members of two GroupMe groups shared among students: Sullivan squad, referring to a dorm on campus, and NCSU2020 Enginerds.

They included the statements “BLM is practically a terrorist organization, promoting killing cops, looting stores, and burning down buildings” and “I’m not ready for my campus to be set on fire.” Some expressed that they did not want to walk through a Black Lives Matter protest on campus. Two students in particular used the n-word and other variations of it.

The messages were screenshot and posted on social media by a black student in the groups. The two students who used the n-word have apologized, saying in part that “we know what we said is very offensive and hurtful to the African-American community … we hope to someday have the chance for forgiveness.” But some peers have claimed the apologies are hollow. Some have even called for their expulsion.

While the Racial Climate Town Hall had been organized prior to the release of the text messages, the controversy overtook the event.

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Grad student Jessica Peacock said in an interview with The College Fix the text messages were “the elephant in the room” as administrators gave opening remarks.

As soon as administrators finished speaking, several students took the microphone to call on administrators to punish the texts’ authors and create more programming to support students of color and other diverse groups.

Peacock, dismayed with the current level of diversity programming, said she wished that the administration “forced the students to have more conversations” about race. She also said that students “should participate in diversity and inclusion training to understand the impact of their words.”

Despite the calls for increased diversity programming, NC State already has both an Office of Multicultural Affairs and African American Cultural Center, as well as robust extracurricular programming for students of color and other diversity groups. The university also already requires students take a course in “U.S. Diversity.”

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About the Author
Toni Airaksinen -- Barnard College