By Ethan Nichols, World News Editor
We’ve been told it’s about dialogue. We’ve been told to keep an open mind. We’ve been told that Joe Deters is here to push us, and force us to think about difficult things. That this is really for educational value.
Well, it’s now clear that’s not true. This past week I and a number of my classmates met with Joe Deters to engage in an event focused on dialogue and discussion.
While I’ve made my position on Xavier offering Deters a role on this campus pretty clear, I decided to go into this meeting with an open mind. I was ready and willing to hear the justice out, listen to what he had to say, and hope that he would be willing to engage openly in dialogue about the rhetoric he’s used throughout his career.
I left this meeting disappointed. We asked Justice Deters some tough questions. We asked him uncomfortable questions. While doing this, we hoped he would engage with and hear us out, and be willing to embrace growth.
That did not happen. Joe Deters heard from a number of students, not just me, who provided insightful comments into the power of language, and why some of the rhetoric the justice has engaged in throughout his storied career causes harm.
His response? None. Justice Deters proved unwilling to change his rhetoric or be more careful when choosing his words.
Language has power. The words we choose matter.
Justice Deters has a long history of using the term “thugs.” We questioned the justice on this repeatedly during our meeting last week, and he pushed back every time.
By definition, “thug” is intended to refer to a violent person or a person who has committed a crime. The word has now become blurred, becoming a coded word used to discreetlydiscretely reference Black people. The connotation has become that when someone says “thug,” you infer a Black person.
When looking in the media, we see clear differences in how Black protestors are referred to (“thugs”) versus white protestors (“rowdy”).
Illya Davis, a philosophy professor at Morehouse, said that the usage of “thug” is a substitution for more blatant and obvious racial slurs.
“It seems almost that people with a certain disdain can get across a sentiment to us. They can get away with saying thug under the guise that it is the closest they can get without aborting their social status,” Davis said.
When asked about this language, and why he couldn’t simply be careful when choosing his words, Deters told us that he was not interested in changing his vocabulary or rhetoric.
The decision to dismiss the concerns of students, including many students of color, was disrespectful and showed Justice Deters to be, at best, ignorant and defensive and, at worst, openly and willingly promoting racist rhetoric.
We do not need to entertain racism. Dialogue does not include embracing racist rhetoric. In fact, if Xavier intends to be a safe space for dialogue to exist, it can not allow for racist ideas and rhetoric to persist unfettered.
If we want students and faculty to feel that they can effectively engage in dialogue, then we must first create the spaces to allow for that. Joe Deters does the exact opposite.
His presence on our campus and in our communities flies in the face of Jesuit values.
Reflection requires us to consider the world around us. Joe Deters has demonstrated an unwillingness to reflect on the harm his words cause.
Discernment requires us to consider feelings and rational thought in decision-making and contributions to the world around us, including marginalized populations.
Solidarity and kinship require us to stand in solidarity with and for marginalized communities, including the communities Joe Deters spent decades imprisoning and destroying.
Service rooted in justice and love requires us to stand with those who suffer from injustices, including the very people Joe Deters dehumanizes and describes as “thugs.”
Cura Personalis requires us to care for the whole person. To do so, we must care for those in our community affected by racist rhetoric.
Magis requires us to recognize the moral good, which necessitates that we acknowledge the harm of racist rhetoric and action. Joe Deters should not be allowed to be a part of our campus community, and the university must make clear that his rhetoric will not be tolerated.