“Fag.” “Yeah, but she’s a slut anyway.” “Mexicans are lazy, though.” “Don’t Jew me.”
These are just a few of the phrases that the Women’s Student Assembly, an advocacy group that falls under Program Board, included on fliers leading up to an Wednesday event intended to explore discussions of race, class and gender. The posters, which sparked conversation among some and offended others, were meant to depict insensitive language that some students face regularly.
“We wanted to start a discussion around the way some people experience discrimination every day and bring awareness to that, because a lot of people hardly ever experience language that targets or offends their entire community,” said Kaya Masler, a director of WSA.
The advertisements were posted around campus, though many were taken down by Monday. Neither WSA nor Program Board was responsible for removing them, Masler said, though she speculated that it was possible that individuals had removed the signs.
The Division of Student Affairs oversees advertising at USC. According to the division’s regulations, as outlined in SCampus, content of printed material cannot contain “fighting words,” speech that, “considered objectively, is abusive and insulting rather than a communication of ideas.”
Several students said they felt the signs encouraged discussion and a dialogue about slurs. Jennifer Joseph, a senior majoring in human performance, said that though she never saw the signs, she heard about them from a group of friends who saw them.
“It gets people to talk for sure,” Joseph said. “We were all curious about what they were there for.”
The event, “PLUG IN: An Interactive Workshop on Race, Class and Gender,” will run Wednesday from 7 to 9 p.m. at Ground Zero Performance Cafe. Due to scheduling, the event falls on the 12th anniversary of the attacks on 9/11, which Masler said was not intentional but a fact not lost on the event’s planners.
“We’re going to do a moment of silence for the victims of 9/11 at the event, and it’s kind of about working past isolationist fears as a community and as a nation,” Masler said.
Masler recognizes that not all students took kindly to the insensitive language on the flyers.
“I think some people were [offended],” Masler said. “They should be. But, once again, this campaign is not intended at all to condone this language but rather to encourage people to get angry about it and respond to it.”
Emily He, a sophomore majoring in biology, was one of the students who said she was turned off by the language on the signs.
“It’s just uncomfortable,” He said. “I found some of the flyers a little bit offensive, so it didn’t make me interested in reading any further at what the fliers had to say.”
Even some supporters of the event worry that the inclusion of sensitive language could lead to misinterpretation.
“It was edgy, but I’m afraid it could be interpreted [in] the wrong way,” said Josh Fasky, a senior majoring in neuroscience. “Impact versus intent is a very fine line to navigate and should be approached carefully.”
The Political Student Assembly, the Black Student Assembly, the Latino/a Student Assembly, the Queer People of Color Club and Lambda Upsilon Lambda are all co-sponsoring the event.
The fliers for the Ground Zero event are not the only campaign that has attempted to draw attention to insensitive language. The LGBT Resource Center created fliers for resident advisors that list derogatory slurs and how they might hurt students. Some of these phrases include “b-tch,” “ghetto,” “whore” and “that’s so gay.”
“[It’s] to put it out there that people should rethink the language they use and how certain words can affect an individual negatively and how we should think before we speak,” said Vincent Vigil, director of the LGBT Resource Center.
Vigil said the fliers are part of a campaign called “Words that Hurt and Why,” which is part of the center’s Ally Project.
Masler ultimately hopes that, through group workshops at the event, students will gain tools and approaches to deal with discrimination based on race, class or gender.
“I don’t think the event is about political correctness as much as it is about being aware of what one another goes through and being better allies of one another’s experiences and struggles,” Masler said. “It’s not so much about policing each other as it is about helping each other be more culturally and racially sensitive.”
Follow Daniel on Twitter @danielrothberg