Written by JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN Sentinel County Editor
Thursday, 18 April 2013 08:45
More than 200 students and community members pledged Wednesday evening to stand up against hatred in Bowling Green and say "Not in Our Town."
|Tobias Spears recites the last line of the "Not in Our Town" pledge as others speakers stand behind him. (Photo: Shane Hughes/Sentinel-Tribune)
It was nearly two weeks ago when several black students from Bowling Green State University gathered for a social event at a bar near the downtown. Though there were no confrontations at the bar, when students went home at the end of the evening and checked their social media, they saw several racially charged comments posted on Twitter by white BGSU students at the same bar.
The tweets included comments such as "ocean of chocolate," "it got dark real fast," and "F--- N------." By the morning, even more comments were posted, including one saying the person "had to take a shower" after being at the bar that evening.
The tweets made students feel afraid and angry, said Tiffany Smith, president of the Black Student Union.
"I personally felt threatened," Smith told the crowd Wednesday evening. "It made me feel unwelcome" in a community where she has lived four years of college life.
So Smith acted.
"I wasn't going to sit back and let these tweets occur," she said.
Now Smith and others on campus are asking the entire community to take a stand. They are asking Bowling Green residents to no longer be silent in the face of hatred. They are asking them to say, "Not in Our Town."
"We need to act. It's not enough to say you didn't say the racist slur," said Dr. Susana Pe√±a, director of School of Cultural and Critical Studies. "Intervene, interrupt them to say 'Not In Our Town.'"
Enlisted in the battle against bigotry were BGSU President Dr. Mary Ellen Mazey and Bowling Green Mayor Dick Edwards.
"We're here to celebrate diversity and inclusion. That's what BGSU is all about," Mazey said.
"Hate, bigotry and bias aren't welcome in our city," Edwards said.
The "Not in Our Town" concept was started in Billings, Mont., about 20 years ago when the community there refused to be silent and fearful in the face of hatred directed at people because of their race or religion.
While some hate incidents - such as the racist tweets - don't meet the definition of a crime, they cannot be ignored, said Vicky Kulicke, of the equity and diversity office, and a member of the BGSU President's Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion.
"They leave people feeling victimized," she said.
If allowed to continue, the hatred can tap into an underlying current of bigotry in the community, Kulicke said.
And while many in the Bowling Green community may believe the campus and city are inclusive, "weren't not there yet," Pe√±a said.
Those gathered Wednesday viewed a PBS video on other communities that have stood up and said "Not in Our Town." The campaign was used at the University of Mississippi to fight racism, in Bloomington, Ind., to fight anti-Semitism, and in Lancaster, Calif., to fight bullying in schools.
To make the campaign work, the organizers said the entire community must be enlisted against all forms of intolerance. People will be asked to no longer be bystanders, but take on the role of activists instead.
Those attending the meeting were asked to sign pledge cards vowing to "lead and live through example by stopping bigotry before it starts."
The pledge continues, saying "I understand that being silent in the face of acts of intolerance is unacceptable. I pledge to take a stand against any and all hateful actions in Bowling Green, Ohio: my town."
The localized campaign against hatred is not intended to be parochial, Smith said after the meeting. "It's to claim ownership" of the problem and the solution in Bowling Green.
The next "Not in Our Town" event scheduled is Tuesday at 6:30 p.m., when a panel will discuss race issues at Olscamp Hall, Room 115, BGSU.
Last Updated on Friday, 19 April 2013 07:53