University of Nebraska-Lincoln administrators launched a campaign against racial intolerance Monday night, telling students that they're being heard.
But student after student posed the same question: Why are you hearing us only now?
Speaking to several hundred students and staff, Chancellor Harvey Perlman and others focused on the need for students to also speak against racially charged language and stereotypes.
But it was the question and answer session with the audience that revealed the impact recent events have had on minorities at the predominantly white university.
The administration announced the marketing campaign Not Here, Not Now, Not Ever last week after a student senator used offensive words and racially charged jokes in defending free speech, and someone wrote the N-word in chalk outside a fraternity house.
Perlman encouraged students to take responsibility for creating an environment in which everyone can feel successful.
“Formal programs ... will not be half as effective as a conscious effort to walk in others' shoes” and speak out, Perlman said.
Bryan Colbert, a UNL senior, questioned whether Perlman was truly speaking from the heart.
Colbert said he and Perlman live “in different worlds.”
Other students questioned why action wasn't taken months earlier, during homecoming, when student skits in a program called “Huskers Around the World” included characters acting as Mexican and African-American stereotypes, and whether any punishment has been doled out to offenders.
Perlman said the college has dealt with or is investigating every incident that it is aware of.
Keith Garcia, a graduate student, said he lives as an adviser in the mostly white fraternity house where the N-word was written.
“If you want to know who this affects, this is your reality check,” he said. “It's me.”
He asked that students of all races accept their responsibility to promote respect and to get to know each other.
“It shouldn't always be the students of color who need to step up and be your educational experience,” Garcia said.
Grant Garrison, a junior and member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, said reaching outside traditional comfort zones may be what UNL needs.
His fraternity and others want help in increasing the diversity in their mostly white ranks, he said.
“If we had pledge brothers we'd be able to look in the eye and say 'That's who we offended today,' that would really hit home,” Garrison said.