Students of color who objected to students and alumni calling the South Student Neighborhood (pictured above) the “ghetto” on a UD Instagram video were told they should leave or transfer. Cover photo courtesy of Sean Newhouse
The University of Dayton posted a video to its social media in November called “There’s No Place Like Home,” which highlighted the student neighborhood. Some alumni and students commented on Instagram that the university should refer to the South Student Neighborhood as the “ghetto,” a term which predates the term “South Student Neighborhood” and is how many students refer to the South Student Neighborhood.
Some students of color responded to these comments on Instagram, saying that the term “ghetto” is offensive because it denotes an impoverished urban area; whereas, the student neighborhood is mostly renovated and predominantly houses White and upper middle-class students. These students of color were then told by individuals on Instagram that they didn’t belong at UD and should leave or transfer.
Language that forbids belonging, such as the language used in this incident, typifies racist language used against minorities. According to university officials, Student Development investigated the “two most deeply engaged [Instagram] commenters, but could not identify either as UD students.”
The video also was criticized for lacking diversity. It was removed 36 hours after it was posted primarily because of the hurtful comments, according to university officials.
People of color make up 22% of full-time undergraduate students at UD.
Along with being hurtful to certain students, the incident and how it was addressed highlight challenges the university is facing in its goal to become more diverse and inclusive.
President Eric Spina condemned the Instagram comments in a blog post that was emailed to campus. In the blog he also condemned a spate of thefts at a house primarily for LGBTQ+ students in the South Student Neighborhood and the vandalism of pro-life posters on campus.
In a message to campus, Student Government Association (SGA) President Bryan Borodkin similarly condemned the hurtful comments and the lack of diversity in the video.
The video was created from stock footage the university had of the student neighborhood. University Marketing and Communications has apologized for the video’s lack of diversity.
“Depicting diversity is one of our highest priorities, but we fell short of our own standards,” said Molly Wilson, vice president for marketing and communications. “We are very sorry.”
SGA passed a resolution in November condemning the hurtful Instagram comments and the video’s lack of diversity. The resolution also says SGA will address continued use of the term “ghetto” and sponsor efforts to promote diversity and inclusivity on campus.SR1920-09 Student Neighborhood
In a diversity survey that was conducted by the university in 2018, 74% of students reported calling the student neighborhood the “ghetto” is tradition, and 26% found the term offensive.
The resolution was sponsored by senior Sen. Cierra Stewart and was co-sponsored by SGA President Borodkin, SGA Vice President Tyler Clogg and SGA Speaker of the Senate Tommy Reese.
Stewart said she offered to write the resolution because it was a personal issue for her.
“…I was in the [Multi-Ethnic Education and Engagement Center (MEC)] group chat after the original video came out on Instagram and saw how people were reacting negatively to it,” she said.
SGA legislation is voted on by 16 class senators (four each class year) and four student directors.
First-year senators Jessica Garvin, Daniel Hennessey, Mason Gordon and Megan Delaney, junior senators Emily Ruebelman, Claire Lonneman and Melissa McCabe and senior senators Stewart and Ryan Scott reported to Flyer News that they voted yes on the resolution.
Six student representatives voted against the resolution; although, none condoned the Instagram comments:
- Senior Sen. Nate Neading said he voted no because he thought the resolution was “written very quickly” and wished it would’ve in some way mentioned UD’s alumni association since some of the hurtful Instagram comments were made by alumni. Regarding the video’s lack of diversity, Neading thought SGA was “quick to jump on the university’s back,” considering he knows a “diverse background of students” who worked on the video’s production.
- Sophomore Sen. Michael Davies added an amendment to the resolution, which is the only explicit condemnation of the hurtful Instagram comments. Still, he said he voted against the resolution because “…it did not fully delve into the issues that lead to the situation and did not put forward a practical resolution that SGA or the university can put into place to curb the use of the term ‘ghetto.’”
- Sophomore Sen. Tongyu Guo, who describes himself as “a non-Catholic Asian immigrant,” said he voted against the resolution because he thought it was unfocused and because he disagreed with the criticism toward the video for lacking diversity. He said purposefully adding minority students in university promotions could be a form of tokenism, where an organization makes itself appear more racially diverse than it is.
- Director of Academic Affairs Noah Leibold said he voted against the measure because “it directly calls out University marketing and communications in a negatory manner when those departments had already taken responsibility.” He also shared Guo’s concerns about tokenization.
SGA does not record how representatives vote on specific legislation. Sophomore senators Bridget Mooney and Thomas Fechalos and director of Marianist Affairs Samuel Enderby didn’t respond to a request for comment on how they voted. Senior Sen. Stewart said she is working on a bill that would amend SGA’s bylaws so that how representatives vote is recorded “in the interest of transparency.”
Junior Sen. Bridget Ofori and senior Sen. Lauren Lanham abstained.
- Lanham said she agreed with the resolution’s intention but disagreed with the language regarding the lack of representation in the video.
- Ofori didn’t respond to a request for clarification on her abstention, but she did say, according to notes from the meeting, “We can’t blame [the university] for the lack of diversity because they just used old footage and if they were to go up to people of color and ask them to be in the video it would seem that they were only speaking to them for the diversity.”
Natalie Coppolino, the director of Campus Unity, was not at the SGA meeting when this resolution was passed, but she told Flyer News that she would have supported it. The director of Special Programs, Rhyan Pearson, also could not attend the meeting. He said he thought “…the text could have been a bit more nuanced and specific” but that he supports the sections that state SGA will address the continued use of the term “ghetto” and sponsor efforts to promote diversity and inclusivity on campus.
All in all, nine student representatives voted yes, six voted no and two abstained. Three were not present.
In a statement to Flyer News, Leibold, who voted against the measure, criticized some of his fellow SGA representatives.
“It was clear to those of us who voted against the resolution that the sponsor(s) wanted to get something passed quickly, rather than passing something quality,” he said.
Stewart, who wrote the legislation, admitted that she was pressed for time but that was because the video was released on a Thursday night and SGA senate meets on Sundays.
“I did not intend, or even expect, for the resolution to be as controversial as it turned out to be,” she said. “My only intentions were simply to express the concerns of a community that I felt was underrepresented…and to make a statement that addressed only one of several continued bias-related incidents that have happened this school year alone.”
Borodkin expressed a similar opinion: “I agree that it was passed quickly, but I don’t see that as a negative. I see that as us responding to campus climate and condemning inappropriate comments.”
He also said during SGA’s spring retreat they will discuss how to create a more standard way to respond to bias-related incidents.
In a similar incident at another campus, a student-produced homecoming video at the University of Wisconsin was criticized last year for lacking diverse representation.