Negative publicity needs accountability

Illustration by Brooke Berry

Halloween is one of my favorite nights out of the whole year, yet every time it comes around, someone seems to ruin the fun.

Most college students use Halloween night as an opportunity to blow off steam from the stress of midterms. It’s a fun distraction from adulting for the age group that is too old to trick or treat but too young to be behind the door handing out candy.

The buildup of seeing an elaborate costume pan out as perfectly as it was first imagined brings a rush of excitement. It always gives me a confidence boost knowing that I’m happy with how my costume turned out.

There will always be someone who uses Halloween as an excuse to dress up in an insensitive costume that mocks others. Typically, these people blatantly ignore the offensiveness it causes, because their privilege blinds them from caring enough.

I would usually advise ignoring these people to deny them the attention they so desperately crave.

It can be difficult to convince these people that what they’re doing is wrong if they’re so rooted in ignorance and if they’ve never had to face any consequences for their offensive actions.

On Oct. 28, NAU had a 15-minutes-of-fame moment when a Twitter user by the name of @groovyk8 called out a group of students who were dressed up as homeless people from a variety of backgrounds.

The five students were dressed as an immigrant mother of 10, a recovering alcoholic, a homeless veteran with prostate cancer, a pregnant 16-year-old and a college dropout.

In @groovyk8’s tweet, she aimed to draw attention from the public, as well as NAU administration, and to hold these students accountable for their public display of ignorance.

They got the response they wanted, and the post went viral, with over 11,000 retweets and almost 30,000 likes on the social media platform as of Nov. 7.

The tweet elicited rage from the masses. I personally was shocked to see that this display of hate came from my university.

NAU President Rita Cheng quickly took to Twitter to announce her response to the viral picture, which stated, “The recent post by NAU students has been taken seriously. We involved the Dean of Students & Office of Inclusion. The students recognize the seriousness of their actions & apologized. @NAU values & supports free speech. Speech demeaning to others does not represent our values.”

After that initial tweet received 88 heated responses, Cheng tweeted a follow-up statement that was just as problematic as the first.

“Thank you for weighing in,” Cheng tweeted. “While we don’t condone the behavior, NAU supports free speech. We are taking this as an opportunity to educate our students.”

As the main spokesperson of NAU, Cheng should have produced a better-worded statement and consulted longer with her public relations team.

If this is the best form of damage control that was thought up in the moment, nothing should have been said at all. Cheng’s response caused almost as much controversy as the initial tweet.

It was blatantly irresponsible of Cheng to use the words she did, which justified their offensive language as “free speech.” Not only were Cheng’s two tweets a terrible public relations scandal for the university’s reputation, but it made other NAU students embarrassed to be a part of a university that values this kind of “free speech.”

There’s a big difference between free speech and hate speech.

On Oct. 31, Twitter user @vvanna_ responded to Cheng, stating, “It’s not a real apology if you had to write it for them.”

Another response from Twitter user @_austriia posted, “You take plagiarism on my essay more serious than this.”

The overarching consensus from the waves of upset NAU stakeholders on Twitter agreed that a harsher punishment was in order.

This, along with more accountability from Cheng, should have been thought about and sat on for a few days. Cheng prematurely decided that the issue was resolved because the students “apologized” in a private setting with school officials, according to an article in The Arizona Republic.

Saying sorry without meaning it is useless and invaluable. These students deserve to at least be held responsible to volunteer at the Sunshine Rescue Mission in downtown Flagstaff to expose them to the struggles of homelessness that their sheltered mindsets find amusing and OK to mock.

As a student who generally takes pride in being a Lumberjack, I am equally disappointed by the offensive costumes and Cheng’s poor reaction.