SGA reviews racial epithet resolution


Kiersten Riedford

David Hupp, the SGA Senator for Fourth & Fifth Year Students, shares his thoughts on the language within the racial epithet resolution during the discussion portion of the meeting.

Experiencing high school in a predominantly white area of North Mississippi, graduate student Jaslynn Hodges, Student Government Association (SGA) community engagement coordinator, is no stranger to the use of racial slurs in classroom settings. From teachers to the students around her, when faced with racial epithets, she was never given a choice on how or where they were used. 

Now, faced with a newly proposed racial epithet Faculty Council resolution, she wants to take back that control for others. SGA held a discussion on the resolution at their general body meeting on Jan. 12. The resolution, which was first discussed at the January 2022 Faculty Council meeting, was sent to SGA for feedback and approval by an independent faculty member. The SGA discussion focused on the intersectionality of racial epithets on other marginalized groups, the resolution’s place in the Faculty Handbook and the policy’s effect on students. 

“Now that I’m an adult and I’m a college student part of SGA, it means I’m really passionate about this resolution because I have those experiences,” Hodges said. “I felt like I was silenced and I wasn’t able to say anything and now I can.”

The inclusivity of the epithets, not only racial ones, in the resolution was questioned regarding the examples of racial epithets listed in the document and possibly expanding the policy to include epithets for other marginalized groups not based on race. 

“We were expecting to get a better understanding of where our senators stood on a resolution of this kind, especially since it specifically advocates for student populations in the classroom,” SGA vice president junior Magoli Garcia said. “This resolution is being put forward by faculty so we wanted to open up the conversation.” 

The resolution was written by interim dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Valerie Johnson and focuses on the university policy of discrimination and harassment. Current guidelines state that professors have the freedom to use racial epithets in the context of academia, such as class readings, even if a student vocalizes their discomfort. 

The resolution would protect students from this situation and add into the Faculty Handbook that a violation of this resolution could put a professor up for investigation and potential termination. 

“There are a lot of times people don’t understand the student experience so there is an acknowledgment that students and student government does not fully understand the faculty experience either,” SGA president senior Kevin Holechko said. “We’re very grateful members of Faculty Council asked us to provide feedback and we recognize that we may not always understand the full picture.”

Hodges does not see the resolution having any negative effects on students, but sees the potential for pushback from professors regarding the new restrictions. She explains that the harsh boundaries could be difficult for professors who feel insulted by the sudden lack of freedom to use epithets in a classroom context. 

“I know I would feel some sense of security and that my professors would be held accountable when they are creating unsafe spaces,” Hodges said. “Sometimes, having these conversations is really uncomfortable and difficult and people don’t lean into that, so I’m glad this is a space where we can have those healthy discussions.” 

The resolution will have the most direct effect on faculty, bringing into question SGA’s role as a student organization in providing feedback on the document. While Garcia recognizes the resolution was started by the Faculty Council, she believes in discussing it with the general student body, new perspectives were gained to improve students’ understanding of the issues. 

“The reason we did bring it to SGA is because we understand that this resolution specifically impacts students and the student experience in the classroom,” Garcia said. “Yes, it does directly impact how faculty are regulated in their classrooms and the materials they are able to provide, but it also provides a layer of protection to our students’ experience at this university.”

Holechko hopes SGA’s involvement in the resolution emphasizes their willingness to help with policy ideas from any campus group, including students, faculty and staff alike. The resolution has already gone through the established processes by the Faculty Council bylaws and Faculty Handbook, meaning the only action for SGA to do now is send their feedback and see what comes of it. 

“This was a discussion on what is acceptable and what is not, what is academic freedom and what is not,” Holechko said. “It’s a conversation faculty probably had a lot more than students but I think this is a great example of how even our professors, who are brilliant people, have the same problems as everyday students.”