“Higher education must lead the march back to the fundamentals of human relationships”, stated John A. Hannah, “to the old discovery that is ever new, that man does not live by bread alone.” It seems a student at the University of Oklahoma has undermined the meaning of this quote, at the expense of black students studying at the University of Pennsylvania, one of the most prestigious institutions in America. This cyber attack on students taints the reputation of the Ivy league schools and universities in general as higher education is usually equated to open-mindedness and building connections to solve the issues of the world, not exacerbate them.
It has recently come to light that a number of black UPenn freshman felt victimized when added to a GroupMe account entitled, “Mud Men,” overflowing with disparaging comments and pictures, racial slurs and a calendar of lynchings. No one was physically hurt, but the same can’t be said about the student’s’ emotional state. Feeling scared and attacked, many students rushed to their admission counselors in tears. The brazen actions of the perpetrators were traced back to the University of Oklahoma. In November, a student from that college was temporarily suspended- evidence is still being collected against him. Two other Oklahomans are also being investigated for their involvement.
The incident has provided the reality of college campuses. “College campuses are known to be generally liberal, being regarded as a safe haven for all races, sexes, and sexual orientations,” stated a UPenn student who wished to remain anonymous. “Being a minority, this is the first time ever that I have felt a hint of fear of being harmed due to my racial identity. Being in the University of Pennsylvania doesn’t mean you are protected from hate.”
It is events like this that prompt some colleges to have “trigger warnings” and safe spaces that extend beyond racism and into politics and offensive classroom materials. An immense amount of criticism has been directed at these methods to coddle college students, but there is a valid argument in support; students have to go through much more hardships than people expect.
Countless seniors from High School West have applied or are applying to Ivy Leagues, especially UPenn. Although the event is shocking and repulsing to say to least, it does not seem to discourage prospective students from applying. Two students, who will go by ‘A’ and ‘B’ for reasons of anonymity, explained why- “A group of students doesn’t represent a college completely,” stated A, “the bad groups and events stand out more than the good ones.” B agreed, stating, “Upon hearing that this happened, I was shocked. I couldn’t believe that some individuals are so hateful that they would target and attack people that they truly know nothing about. Although UPenn students were targeted, this attack was orchestrated by individuals who have no affiliation with the school, so it is not representative of the community that exists at Penn.”
Indeed, the University of Pennsylvania president, Amy Gutmann, quickly issued the following statement to denounce the matter at hand: “This is absolutely vile material and completely offensive to everyone on our campus. We are both angry and saddened that it was directed to our students or to anyone. The people responsible for this are reprehensible. We have increased campus safety and are reaching out to support the affected students in every way we can, and want them to know that the entire Penn community stands with them… We must reiterate how absolutely essential it is to the core values of our community, and also to the well-being of our society and world, that all persons be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.” Clearly, she is enforcing the need for a sense of community and unity in these difficult times.
Racism is quite prevalent in academic environments, despite the fact that colleges are supposed to protect their students from harassment. They are also inclined to promote open discussion. When asked about how it reflects on other schools, B responded by saying,” I think that this does reflect what’s happening on college campuses and in our country as a general whole. There is a lot of hate that has recently resulted in attacks and tensions among different groups of people. Hopefully we’ll see these tensions and racial divides clear up in the near future, but as of now it seems that, although horrible, events like this are the norm.”
Current students and prospective applicants were incredulous at the cyber attack that unfolded at UPenn. It is an understatement that attacks were unorthodox and all students are undeserving and repulsed by this type of behavior. However, this racial attack is not going to foster fear for future students in all universities; if anything, it is evident that they are determined to work harder to find a better sense of community in their academic environment.