Closson: Use of N-word at A&O Ball representative of greater campus issues

Troy Closson, Assistant Opinion Editor

I didn’t go to A&O Ball. And after hearing stories from friends, I was more than happy I didn’t.

This year, the concert was co-sponsored by A&O Productions and For Members Only, Northwestern’s primary black student organization. Jeremih and Aminé were chosen to perform, in part, because they fulfilled both organizations’ goals of providing racially inclusive entertainment. And while the performers did represent more diverse entertainment, the actions of student attendees led to obstacles to the creation of an inclusive atmosphere.

As I not only heard from friends but also witnessed first-hand in a video of the event, many non-black students loudly sang the N-word every time the lyric arose in Jeremih’s and Aminé’s songs.

To be clear, I’m not claiming this was A&O’s fault, nor am I saying it was FMO’s. This is completely the responsibility of the students who felt they could use Ball as an opportunity to say the N-word. Personally, when I heard many non-black students chose to sing the N-word, rather than simply skipping over it, I wasn’t even slightly surprised. It’s honestly sad that I’ve come to expect students here to do so.

This is not a new concern. Similar problems have occurred during past NU concerts, such as Blowout and Ball, which usually feature black artists. Despite previous student requests for non-black students to commit to omitting the N-word from their vocabulary — regardless of whether the performer sang it — it was still consistently shouted out throughout Friday’s concert.

I shouldn’t have to be writing a column telling non-black students not to say the N-word. As I’m sure everyone knows, it has direct ties and connections to racism and beliefs of black inferiority. Saying non-black students shouldn’t use the N-word isn’t a double standard; rather it’s completely acceptable considering the word’s historical implications. As soon as people say it, the atmosphere completely transforms. Inclusive environments immediately become divided and individual communities can begin to feel isolated and alienated. As a black student myself, I usually feel a mixture of discomfort, uneasiness and exasperation whenever I hear people on campus say the N-word in conversation or during songs, quickly diminishing my experiences in these situations. And with its power to alienate members of NU’s black community in mind, non-black students on campus should already be fully aware that they shouldn’t be saying the N-word — in any setting, under any circumstances, even if attending a concert in which an artist’s lyrics include the word.

But Ball and Blowout aren’t isolated incidents. Rather, the apparent apathy of many non-black students at these concerts about saying the N-word is largely representative of greater inclusion issues on NU’s campus.

The lack of campus inclusion isn’t an issue limited to social situations, as it’s also fully present in academics. I’ve repeatedly felt alienated by the lack of inclusive language used by professors and students alike in classes and discussions. The Black Student Experience Task Force’s report released in the fall similarly highlighted the apparent lack of cultural competency by many NU faculty and staff.

Additionally, the tokenization of not only black students, but also many people of color in general has felt commonplace. The complexity of black experiences frequently feels forgotten, as conversations often uniformly generalize black students into a single, monolithic group. Within many student groups on campus, the presence of one or two black student members is flaunted as “diversity.” And although NU’s student body regularly seems very aware of and quick to react to social issues within the U.S., it often feels like meaningful discussions about race and ethnicity are relegated to students of color.

In my first year at NU, I’ve realized our campus has many diversity and inclusion-related issues. One that could be solved very easily — if students made the choice to recognize its importance, — is the use of the N-word during campus concerts and performances. As I’m sure many other members of NU’s black community would agree, it’s honestly exhausting to deal with and only furthers feelings of isolation on campus. Dillo Day is quickly approaching and I’d prefer to not be forced to address students’ use of the N-word then as well.

To the students who feel the need to continue singing the N-word, there are thousands of other words you can use to say whenever you want. Not saying just this one would drastically improve the experiences of many black students on this campus and move NU toward being a less alienating and more racially inclusive environment.

Troy Closson is a Medill freshman. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.