: Kasey, one of the things we talk about as a core value of the liberal arts is being open to diversity. This is different from tolerance, which is merely to put up with something that might otherwise be unpleasant. The liberal arts ideal involves more than that, it means to embrace diversity as an enriching part of our lives, as what gives human life texture and depth
That is why the images we have seen of the Penn State students playing on the most insensitive and demeaning caricature of Mexicans
is so disheartening. It reflects poorly on all of us and demonstrates that we are doing a poor job cultivating one of the central ideals of a liberal arts education. How are you and your fellow students thinking about and responding to this incident?
: I think that students are generally disappointed by this situation. While a divide seems to exist as to exactly how out of line the students' actions were, I think we have all acknowledged that the stereotypes that were highlighted were extremely offensive to us and to Mexicans. We simply wish the students had thought about the consequences of representing people of this culture in a degrading manner.
As you mentioned, in Liberal Arts we strongly value diversity and encourage all students to be open to and embrace people of other cultures. Personally, I do not believe this incident stemmed from hate; however I believe it did come out of a lack of these values which we have distinguished as being central to a liberal arts education. Looking ahead, I think we as individuals need to re-examine the way we incorporate diversity into our lives, and learn to do more than tolerate others, but to seek actively opportunities for growth through exposure to diversity.
: You are probably right that the incident did not stem from overt hatred, but it did emerge from a culture of ignorance and xenophobia. It is probably easier to address overt hatred than it is to address more subtle and therefore perhaps more pernicious forms of racism and cultural ignorance. It is our responsibility as an institution of education to respond in ways that enable us to honestly examine and redress our own prejudices, even and especially when they are embedded in the institutional and cultural structures in which we live.
Another important dimension of this episode is the role social media played in exposing the incident. One aspect of social media that I find compelling is the way it can reveal something about ourselves to us as a community; often it reveals aspects of ourselves it is difficult to face. The public nature of social media is critical in this regard. Do you have the sense that students appreciate the extent to which their social media presence is, at heart, a way of appearing in public, with all the power and implications that involves?
: At this point in our lives (being in college, applying for jobs and other opportunities), I believe students are developing an awareness of this public face that social media provides. Students take steps such as altering Facebook names, creating multiple Twitter accounts, and blocking certain people from their social media platforms in order to maintain "privacy."
However, I do not think that students have an awareness of how what they post on these sites reflects on them as individual people. You mentioned how social media reveals things about ourselves that we do not want to face, and I believe this is an area to which we students need to turn our attention. While students have mastered blocking specific people from viewing their sites, they are not focusing on what image their statuses and pictures are creating to the people who are allowed to view it. This also ignores the fact that all things posted on the internet have the potential to reach an unintended audience; the internet does not allow us to keep anything truly private.
My question to students is this: why post things on social media that you would not want everyone to see? Is there a general lack of understanding of the power of the internet, or do we just choose to ignore it?
: And to your questions, I would add: what vision of ourselves as individuals and members of the Penn State community do we want to embody in our social media and face to face relationships? How does the liberal arts ideal of embracing
diversity, as opposed to merely tolerating it, fit into that vision of ourselves?