While we were away on spring break, there were several instances in current events where fundamental rights were compromised, from students at two state universities to the orca whales in SeaWorld tanks.
Let’s begin with proof that racism is still sung in our society – yes, sung.
The University of Oklahoma’s chapter of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity recited a racist chant in harmony on a bus ride to a Founder’s Day event. The lyrics, which added to the narrative of White America, incited violence and included references to lynching.
In response, David Boren, the university’s president, closed the fraternity’s house and expelled the leaders on the grounds that their chant created a “hostile educational environment.”
Unsurprisingly, conservatives continue to defend the expelled students, questioning the legality of their expulsion. They claim that the students’ first amendment rights were ignored and singing the song was justified, as it was sung on a privately rented bus comprised of like-minded students from a public university.
But the university’s zero-tolerance policy still applies, especially since its African-American students have previously stepped up to issue complaints regarding racism and exclusion. Moreover, Title VI gave Boren the authority to expel the students in an effort to rid his campus from racial hostility and preserve an inclusive learning environment.
But of course, college campuses across our country still deal with the issue of racism. Just days after the Oklahoma fraternity members sang of intolerance, University of Virginia student Martese Johnson experienced it firsthand when he was brutally beaten by white officers from the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
Thankfully he survived, and his story can now be used as a reminder that everyone is entitled to equal protection of the law and deserves to feel safe, regardless of the color of their skin.
The last topic also concerns intolerance, but a far different type. The issue of animals in captivity stirred up hullabaloo this past week, and though it does not directly relate to human rights, it is still worthy of our attention. SeaWorld has always neglected to acknowledge the rights of animals, choosing instead to kidnap, drug and force captured orca whales into tiny tanks.
Recently, the $2.5 billion company launched a rather foolish Twitter campaign, promising to answer all inquiries hashtagged #AskSeaWorld. What was presumably an attempt to quell dissent regarding SeaWorld’s blatant mistreatment of its whales (outlined in the popular documentary “Blackfish”), the campaign quickly boomeranged when animal rights activists used the hashtag to ask controversial questions and voice their disdain for the company.
The majority of the questions directed at SeaWorld asked the park why its parking lots are bigger than its tanks, why it disrespects the sanctity of the mother-calf bond by separating mothers from their newborns and why there are more dead orcas in its history than orcas currently alive at all of its parks.
SeaWorld didn’t actually answer all of the questions despite its promise, choosing instead to blame Internet trolls for “jacking” the hashtag and tweeting, “No time for bots and bullies.”
But the bullies in this case were not the passionate animal lovers advocating for the protection of whales. The real bully is SeaWorld, a company that has historically ignored the welfare of animals in captivity and made revenue more important than ethical safety and care.
The marketing campaign was a disaster, and as long the directors of the campaign continue with their selective responses, the public backfire will — and rightfully should — intensify.
After all, it is the public’s duty as influencers of policy to help shape a tolerant society for humans and animals alike.