An open letter to the college student!

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UPDATE: Since this was published a little more than a week ago, several things have happened. First, after the “unrest” at the University of Missouri, Ithaca and Yale, protests have spread across the country with African American and student/faculty allies presenting lists of demands to make their campuses more inclusive of people from diverse backgrounds. And it looks like this is just the tip of the iceberg. Second, this article was published in several major publications this week, among them the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, The Chattanooga News Chronicle and on the Huffington Post (article by Deborah Levine, American Diversity Report). Third, and so unfortunate, I received news today that still another student was suspended for sending out an offensive communication, plus pictures of African-American law professors at the Harvard Business School were defaced. So once again, you may want to share this one throughout your formal and informal networks if, for no other reason, to sensitize those who put themselves at risk by doing things they may later regret.  Feel free to contact me directly if I can help in any way.  – editor

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This “letter” requires some imagination. It is purposefully direct, graphic, hard hitting and may cause some discomfort. The reader is urged to read it carefully, several times perhaps, then pass it along and maybe even make it the focal point of a small group discussion (family, classroom, fraternity, etc.)

Now this letter is written to students on increasingly diverse college campuses these days who may be tempted or lured by peers to participate in racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise potentially offensive behavior towards others on campus who may fit into one of those demographic groups. It is not about your intent; rather it is about the far reaching impact of your behavior.

Now to make this letter work, I ask you to relax and close your eyes. Here goes:

You roll out of bed, glad to be awake since you’ve just had a horrible dream. But the problem is that it’s not a dream…it is a reality! 

It all started when you and  your “boys” (or “girls’) decided to drive across campus late one Saturday night after a wild party with lots and lots of cold beer, wine and  a few joints. Your intentions were just to engage in some “innocent” fun. That’s all.

“Hey (N-word), take your butt back to the ghetto,” shouted one of those in the back seat, a comment directed towards a black student exiting the library. Everyone, including you, roared in laughter.

That comment was followed fifteen minutes later with, “Hey you two fa_gots, we don’t want AIDS spread on our campus,” directed at two men walking towards a dorm by a drunken occupant in the front seat. Again, loud laughter ensued.

“Yo Osama, is that a bomb you’re hiding in that backpack?” yelled out another occupant. The recipient stared back in shock.

“Hey (B-word) wanna come to our party,” you asked the two girls walking along the sidewalk.  Amid the laughter, someone in the car tossed out a condom toward the young ladies.

Okay, all in fun your thought, just boys being boys, right? Not so fast!

Then came Monday morning when you received a text message from the Dean of Students requesting you to come immediately to his office. Well unbeknownst to you, someone caught some of your Saturday night “fun” on  camera, your loud voices and all. Despite your denials, when the Dean played you the video there was no doubt that the car was yours.

“Unfortunately because of your behavior, you are immediately expelled from this University. We will have someone from security escort you back to your dormitory and assist you in packing your bags. Sorry this turned out this way, but your behavior is inconsistent with our values and expectations of students on our campus. Good luck in your future endeavors.”

Hours later as you head down the highway in your BMW packed with your belongings, hurt, embarrassed and confused, all kind of questions cropped up in your mind, among them:

  • How do I explain all this to momma and daddy, my wonderful parents who worked hard all their lives to fund my college education?
  • How will my parents explain what happen to the rest of the family, especially after their talking with so much pride about my academic accomplishments?  
  • Will my brothers or sisters have to fend off hurtful jokes and comments from their peers about me because of what took place?
  • Would I want my name plastered on the front page of major newspapers and throughout the internet because of what I participated in? 
  • Do I want to make the evening news on CNN, NBC, Fox News and ABC?
  • Do I want my parents to wake up one morning to find people picketing their home with signs bearing the words, “bigotry is learned at home?
  • Will my expulsion hamper my chances of transferring to another school? 
  • What do I say to a potential employer who wants to know why I left such a fine university?
  • Will my behavior have a negative effect on my university’s brand and hurt its long term ability to attract potential talented students from different backgrounds
  • Although I know deep down inside that I am not a racist, sexist or homophobe, are these the brands I will have to bear for the rest of my life?
  • Would I have said these things to people face-to-face when “my boys” weren’t around?
  • If I am fortunate enough to land a good job, how will this incident impact my ability to work with – or for – people we offended that infamous Saturday night, especially if they somehow are aware of what happened?
  • In the end, was what happened that Saturday night really worth it? 

Okay, open your eyes now. Go ahead and pinch yourself back into reality and away from this terrible nightmare.

So here’s the deal.

Chances are that at some point in the future you may find yourself in a situation where you must make a choice: to go along (even if know full well that it is wrong and not who you are), or just do what is right.

Yes, your intention is one thing, but the consequences of the wrong choice can be far-reaching ….and devastating…in ways that you may never have considered while you were in the midst of “just having fun!”

So think about it for crying out loud…think about it. You’re much better than that. Why ruin your life and negatively impact the lives of your loves ones with a mindless act of stupidity?  Why not just choose the road less traveled?

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both. And be one traveler, long I stood. And looked down one as far as I could. To where it bent in the undergrowth…I shall be telling this with a sign. Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference.    

                                           – excerpts from “The road less traveled”  – Robert Frost

(c) Terry Howard is an award-winning writer, storyteller, international trainer, senior associate, Diversity Wealth and a member of the Cross Cultural Academy. He is also and Contributing Writer with The Chattanooga News Chronicle and the American Diversity Report. He can be reached at wwhoward3@gmail.com or terry@diversitywealth.com

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