Oren Cass ’05 hits the nail on the head with his latest column.
Bad things happen. Communities in which no one ever says or does anything offensive – ever – only exist in dystopic 10th grade novels and John Lennon ballads. In a community of 2000 students and hundreds of faculty and staff, in which literally millions of interactions occur every week, there will be prejudiced individuals and instances of offense. Anyone who believes otherwise is headed for a long life of frustration and disappointment.
Taking the case of the unnamed faculty member, how could we have “done better”? Is it plausible that the faculty member thought the phrase “used as a nigger” would be accepted as appropriate discourse, particularly if used with the intention of antagonizing an African-American colleague? Did anyone read Dean Lenhart’s letter and think “I am surprised that this matter was dealt with so harshly?”
Put more directly: How could a committee, or other College initiative, have possibly prevented the incident that occurred? Would the seventh seminar on sensitivity have made a difference where the first six did not? Would one more push for diversity, perhaps an extra percentage-point or two of minority students or faculty, been the clincher?
More likely, for whatever reason, this particular human being snapped on this particular day in this particular way. She didn’t think about what she was about to say, and she said something that she should not have. She knew the community standards, she knew the consequences, but at that moment, for whatever reason, none of it mattered. That doesn’t excuse her; it just excuses the rest of us.