(Photo by Mark Draper | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

 

This is a letter to the editor written by a student at the University of Utah. To submit a letter to the editor, email [email protected].

Student engagement is a wonderful opportunity for leaders across academic disciplines to unite in the collective advancement of the University of Utah. Whether through service with the Bennion Center, communion with the Center for Ethnic Student Affairs (CESA), involvement with Fraternity and Sorority Life, Union Programming Council (UPC), Associated Students of the University of Utah (ASUU) or other communities, student engagement has a powerful impact on our campus. However, “student leaders” are “students” first, and mistakes are inevitably made. It is the right and responsibility of the larger student body to critique faulty leadership. Likewise, each of these student organizations inevitably experiences disagreements that cause internal tension — but at no time should organizations tolerate defamation and hate speech.

Critical self-examination is an imperative aspect of student organizations. While it is wholly appropriate for students to evaluate the work of these organizations, student leaders should act with poise and maturity in the midst of conflict resolution. Internal disagreements should be handled with care for the sake of involved members and with respect to the larger student body whom they represent. Yet, a malignant letter to the editor published by the Chronicle on April 16 falsely characterizes the student author’s involvement with ASUU, displays an intensely vindictive picture of ASUU’s current state of affairs and fails to highlight the student author’s egregious creation of a sexist meme that refers to a female student leader by a slur.

In his letter, Greg Boisvert characterizes himself as maintaining an active role in ASUU leadership. This is not correct. Earlier this year, Boisvert faced forced resignation or constitutionally-mandated impeachment from his position (assembly representative of the College of Engineering) as a result of poor academic performance. Following his forced resignation, he joined the Government Relations and Student Relations Boards. As a board member, Boisvert’s responsibilities are negligible and voluntary, and he does not work directly with members of the executive cabinet. This is notable provided his exhaustive grievances against the student body president and chief of staff. I myself, a member of one of the executive boards Boisvert actually praises, have worked substantially with the student body president and chief of staff. I observe Connor Morgan and Lilly Kanishka to be sincerely and consistently devoted to improving the well-being of students, and I believe that the overwhelming majority of ASUU leaders would echo this sentiment.

The aforementioned meme from the private Facebook meme group, “Amazon Presents: UofU Edgy Memes for Salty Skis” was produced in reference to the recent censuring of Vice President of Student Relations Xandra Pryor. Let’s be clear here — Boisvert created a meme that referred to a woman in student leadership as a b—-. This is not the first time a female student leader has been called a b—–, and it will not be the last, as Boisvert claims his use of slurs had no impact and merely “pokes fun” at the impeachment proceedings. Boisvert should know that at no point are targeted slurs humorous, nor is their usage considered acceptable behavior on campus.

Women in leadership know all too frequently the pejorative use of the word “b—-” to deface their character and demean their work. Often regarded as “everyday sexism,” research finds that women experience “one to two impactful sexist incidents per week consisting of traditional gender role stereotypes, demeaning and degrading comments and behaviors and sexual objectification which decrease their feelings of safety and overall state of self-esteem.” Sexist jokes such as the one made by Boisvert have serious implications that cannot be disregarded as our campus faces the reality of heightened interpersonal violence. Sexist language including gendered jokes, degrading language, and slurs facilitates an environment where “acts of violence such as rape, abuse, and assault become more permissive.” While these jokes may not directly cause violence, our language structures how we frame violence against women.

I commend Connor Morgan, Lilly Kanishka and respective ASUU advisors who took action to appropriately respond to this instance of everyday sexism. The nature of this action was not the forced silencing of criticism, as Boisvert characterizes it, but rather the thoughtful defense of female student leaders. In a time where survivors’ concerns of campus safety often feel ignored, I am proud that ASUU remains resolute in prioritizing student safety. While Boisvert believes his “joke was taken way too personally,” the manifestation of interpersonal violence is precisely that — all too personal. If we seek to foster a safe environment where violence can no longer manifest, it is our duty to call out everyday sexism in our social circles, leadership positions and during times of internal organizational conflict. Survivors of violence cannot afford to be “silent and complicit” as violence thrives. It is high time student organizations stand in solidarity with survivors to proclaim that “enough is enough.” Mobilizing against sexist language is the first step. For that action we are grateful, yet we remain attentive to the future dedication of student organizations toward uplifting student safety. We will not be silent.

— Grace Mason, ASUU Associate Director of Government Relations, Founder and President of Campus Contraceptive Initiative

12 COMMENTS

  1. Slur? Nothing like overreacting to a word. Everyone needs to stop being so sensitive. Everyone acts like a victim. Especially women. Everyone just needs to toughen up, and stop worrying about name calling.

    • Put your name on your comments if you’re so brave and non-snowflake-ish!

      I get the spirit of what you’re saying, but at the same time there are just words that need to stop being used, the N word (and other racial/ethnic slurs), the b & c word in regards to women, homophobic language etc.

      It’s not about being sensitive, it’s about being part of the positive evolution of the human race where we actually advance and treat each other with respect, and cut all this ignorant/mean rhetoric and behavior out of our repertoire!

      We actually could turn this thing around if we didn’t blurt out insults all the time, gave respect before expecting it, treated each other how we’d like to be treated, and left whatever corner of the world we work/study/play in better than how we left it day in & day out.

      Unless your name is actually Snowflake it’s pretty ironic to call people out for being sensitive when you’re hiding behind your screen and won’t put your name on it. I’ve even got my pic up, and in this UofU forum I feel totally safe having my name, and pic up with everything I do on here–even when I debate/disagree or even poke the hornets nest a bit–because this is my school, state, and community that I love to the moon….excelsior (onward & upward)!!!

      • I would be remiss in citing history also Mr. Snowflake:

        *Women couldn’t even vote until 1920.

        *They were not given opportunities in the workplace until WWII (only because of necessity with all the men being out to war), and despite more than proving themselves lost a lot of the gains they should have had at the conclusion of that war.

        *There are countless examples of women being the hero, or doing a lot of the work and not getting credit (Sacagawea was as tough as any of the famed explorers/mountain men and is a side note to Lewis & Clark’s exploits, John C. Fremont’s famous expedition book was actually written by his wife with his name as the author, and countless LDS women did amazing/heroic things during the migration to SLC and in the creation of this city but the men got the credit….those are just three that struck me as I’ve been studying this epoch recently).

        It is best to not look to be a victim, but history proves that women have been victimized, and the studies on the gender pay gap back up that it’s still a pretty significant issue of being victimized/exploited.

        And those that claim that women choose to have kids and that explains why they lose work opportunities may have a fair argument, but continuing the existence of the human race kinda’ seems like decent reasoning to not penalize women for maternity leave (after all, we all were babies born from a woman).

        There’s plenty of victimization of women going on, you should check out Dr. Beth Clement’s courses and many other professors here at this fine University if you think it’s all made up with woman playing the victim card because they are overreacting and being sensitive (there’s more than enough evidence to justify them being fed up and not putting up with this BS anymore).

  2. I’ve worked in e-commerce for almost 7 years (backcountry.com) & before that Information Systems for HR (Zions Bank)for 5 years; and it never fails that an ambitious, demanding, hard working, and business minded male boss is referred to as, “tough”, or a “bulldog” etc.

    But the same version of that boss as a female is always called a “b****”!

    Certainly both examples could rightly be called jerks empirically through the specific examples I’ve witnessed, we should all be a bit more considerate with our words (and digital words that are documented forever should not be sent in the heat of the moment, try the 24-48 hour rule before you click send, usually you never send what you typed up in the heat of the moment 24-48 hours later!); and even more so we should all remember our frustrations when we get opportunities to lead/manage. And to be fair, sometimes to be a great manager and get things done with the goals of the business in mind one has to be tough, demanding, and even a bit of a jerk.

    I have no idea how I get pulled into commenting on all this ASUU drama, but please keep the letters coming because it certainly is manifesting the pointlessness of University student officers; just let us vote online on what concert/speaker to have and stop this nonsense.

  3. I am so tired or reading “not news” – is this “fake news”? Is this what the Trump means when he says that? Can we stop feeding the virtue signaling feeding frenzy. Once everyone’s done calling everyone else out on being an actual person who isn’t perfect, there isn’t going to be a single person left in this generation who’s allowed to do anything in any position of authority. Seriously.
    And technically, there ARE “b**ches” in the world, male and female, just as there are “a**holes”. Before anyone is accused of being offensive and then punished for it, shouldn’t a true form of justice verify that the object in question is not a “b**ch”? Because, if it is, then someone is punished for accurate naming, which seems a bit against the academic environment. Also, why exactly is everyone assuming the word “b**ch” is a sexist term? Most slang is applied to both/all genders anymore. Get into the new age people.
    And, Isn’t this the female recently removed from office for unnamed [something bad]? Whatever it is will come out eventually because that’s what dirt does. So, get ready to eat your words, anyone who feels like they know wtf is going on already. Unless you already do, then tell us, and tell us now. Because alluding to a bunch of secretive behind doors stuff and then expecting us to take your side about anything is also very un-academic of you.
    And then, Can we just have, like, actual stories sent to our emails. Why is THIS garbage pinned into the email. Isn’t there something that might be important going on? Don’t you guys have bear attacks in the mountains stories we should know about?

  4. So, are all insults now inherently slurs that lead to the inevitable collapse of the sky? The person who posted the meme is obviously juvenile but so is responding to it with accusations of supporting “rape culture”. Both parties are behaving in ways that undercut their arguments.

  5. Hi Grace!

    I think your perspective is spot on. And you are right, which is why I have asked for my original letter to be removed and have privately started the long process of making amends. As someone with personal experiences with sexual violence I should have known better, and I apologize to you, or anyone who felt victimized by my language.

  6. As a member of the Utah meme group and a woman, I assure you many strong female voices are heavily involved in the group administration. Indeed, as a woman in the group, I believe the meme should be defended as a form of free speech. Furthermore, as a woman, I disagree with members of the student government for getting involved or pressuring another student to take down his statement (joke or not, slightly offensive or not.) Though many saw this meme as being pointed toward this Xandra, I assure you many of the student body has never heard of her or the majority of ASUU representatives. To many, including myself, it was simply a meme with a generic use of the word “b—h”, not pointed to any specific man, woman, or non-binary individual.

  7. why is this making headlines? this is a personal matter that should be discussed as such. Is this all ASUU has to contribute? it is just another toxic and cliquey resume booster filled by people appointed via cronyism that has done nothing positive to contribute to the school at all. what happened to caring about actual issues?

  8. To everyone saying that “B—-” is “now a gender neutral insult,”
    You are implying that the history of any given word is not important. That is not how words work. Language sparks within us images, histories, and thousands of different instances of where you last heard the words in context. You may be having a strong reaction to Grace’s piece, but I urge you all to think critically about why you are feeling strongly and to avoid chalking up this issue to simply “let’s all agree that B—- should be used against everyone equally!” This is not as progressive a notion as you think it is, and it’s not our reality.

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