Words sacred only when brain in gear

By Greg Rivara

Trying to delicately talk about NIU’s harassment policy is impossible. Dancing around the subject is only confusing and usually leads to more problems.

Then again, there are a lot of problems when talking about the Constitution and freedom of expression.

Some say freedom of expression is absolute and point to the Constitution’s wording; “Congress shall make no law” abridging freedom of expression.

Others are a bit more tempered. They’re more prone to take into account human nature’s wild card—the oddballs that ruin it for everyone through abuse.

And still others are past pessimism. They figure abuse is part of life. That being the case, the mistake should be limited to as few as possible.

As with everything, the truth lies somewhere in between.

So does NIU and the quickly growing ranks of other universities. It’s times like these when uttering “higher education” really turns out to be a joke.

The “kill a faggot” sign up in Neptune earlier this month isn’t the first time a person used poor judgement. It isn’t the first time some trash tried to stir things up.

But it is serving to draw NIU into a place it certainly doesn’t want to be.

That place is the spotlight in which everyone looms on the sidelines waiting, almost drooling, to see what the school will do.

NIU can take the expedient way out and punish the idiot. They can either make an example out of him or they can give him enough problems to deter him and others from acting without their brains in gear.

Or NIU can do the more painful thing. NIU can say “hey, we think the sign was in poor taste, downright atrocious and wrong, but this is college. This is supposed to be the place where we learn how to work with others and shed the stereotypes we picked up before.”

No school wants to be branded as racially insensitive. Already, some people inside and outside DeKalb think NIU has some racial problems.

If the student responsible truly believes what the sign said, he probably has some equally intelligent views on other minorities.

And, by the virtue of people being people, this bigot will make a mistake. When the student threatens somebody, that is the time for punishment.

If the student only meant it as a joke (after all, everyone has seen some of the sign’s hanging in dorm windows), he will have learned a lesson. Dealing with NIU’s Judicial Office might not be like the real world, but it’s not a stroll through the park.

It’s true that waiting for something to happen is usually waiting too long. But nobody really knows what’s going on in another’s head. You can’t be arrested for what you think and there’s no law against being stupid.

Someone once said words are sacred. If you get the right ones, in the right order, you can nudge the world a little. That, like America, relies on taking the good with the bad.

People using words as weapons instead of tools are wrong. But its better to disagree on how a word is used than to ban its usage.