The University of Alabama (UA) missed an opportunity to do what it exists to do: teach.
In response to the national attention it received this week, the university expelled student Harley Barber after Barber filmed herself repeatedly making racist comments which then went viral.
Before I get to where the University went wrong, let me say so that there is zero doubt — Barber’s comments are disgusting, inexcusable, and indefensible. My commentary on the consequences of her actions should in no way be taken as an effort to defend her hateful speech.
That said, this is/was an opportunity for UA to take someone who is clearly immature and ignorant and teach her better. To teach others like her better. Would that have required an investment of time and resources? Yes. Would that investment be worth it for the university, its student body and its community? Yes. There is zero chance that this won’t happen again, a student is found to show intolerance towards another individual or group of individuals, in the digital age that we live in.
Rather than expelling her and sending her home, what the administration of UA should have done is offered her guidance and an opportunity to grow and learn. That is after all what going to college is about. If we kicked out people for narrow-mindedness and/or ignorant behavior most campuses would be empty.
We don’t know many details about her expulsion, but if it was not conditional on her being able to come back at a later date, I think that’s a tragedy for her and the university. Despite popular opinion at the moment, this young lady is probably not evil. She probably is not going to have a lifetime of racist actions or behaviors. Really what she needs is to have her eyes opened to the realities that hateful discrimination like hers cause. Sit her down with students or facility and put a face and a story behind the effects of hate. Show her the pain that hate has caused. Teach her the history of the intolerable word she used.
I’ve never understood the “Zero Tolerance” policy when it comes to mistakes that come from ignorance, insensitivity or even stupidity, as opposed to ones of malice. There is a difference in posting an offensive video saying horrifically stupid thing and committing an act of violence or promoting hateful actions by others. Treating them as equal undermines the concept of personal growth.
Barber cannot learn from her bigotry by being sent home, shamed and bullied.
She could learn from those around her in an academic setting. She could be placed on probation. Given community service. Given a mentor. Sent to learn about others and hear from them. The opportunities are endless to expand this young woman’s views.
Contrary to what has happened in our campuses over the last several years, if not the last decade — our universities are a place for people to grow. Growth requires that we hear contradictory ideas without the comfort of “safe spaces.” Growth requires that we look at our personal biases and challenge what we may strongly believe about ourselves or others. If we can rehabilitate career criminals we can rehabilitate someone who clearly has not been exposed to racial diversity.
UA missed an opportunity to better this young lady’s life and to strengthen their campus by making it a place of growth for all.
Does she deserve a second chance today? Maybe not.
Does she deserve the time and the opportunity to grow? She does.
People make mistakes big and small. Who better to educate her and help change her backwards point of views than the diverse staff and student body at UA?
If we continue to condemn every backwards thinking individual, rather than take the time to educate them, then we’re dooming our society to continuing in this wayward cycle of hate.