BY: ALEXIS ARNOLD & FESTICIA BOVELL
APRIL 11 - there have been new developments related to this story
ï»¿AU has responded to a video of a student repeatedly saying the N-word in a campus dorm. The video was posted in the freshman GroupMe chat "POC of AU 2022" by Trinity Balla late Saturday night and has gone viral on social media since then.
This is why I don't feel welcomed at American University @AmericanU @SylviaBurwell pic.twitter.com/65nepSJ4Yp— Tas (@TasneemOsm) April 7, 2019
In this video, the person filming asks the student on the couch for his full name after he says the N-word. He identified himself as Aise Jacob O'Neil. He is then asked why he thinks it's okay to say "that word." "I think it's okay to say any word," O'Neil said. He begins a follow-up statement just before the video ends. There is also a second video circulating from the same incident of O'Neil saying the word twice.
The official AU twitter account responded to being tagged by multiple users in one version of the video posted by Tasneem Osman, a freshman. "AU does not condone the use of a racist term associated with discrimination and violence. We recognize the harm this can cause in our community," the statement read. It ended with a pledge to work with everyone involved to understand the incident and "to recognize that freedom of expression comes with responsibility."
The university also sent an email addressing the incident, but many students are not satisfied with the response. To address student outrage, the undergraduate senate passed a resolution yesterday to demand tangible action from AU. A coalition of three AUSG senators has also formed to meet with the university because they feel the response has not been "sufficient" and want to ensure the student involved is held accountable. Others feel that this is a free speech issue and that punishment is unnecessary.
As a grad student at AU and HBCU alumna, I often observe the social isolation of students of color due to not having safe spaces on campus and the overall lack of anti-racist engagement from the administration. Keep your foot on their necks sis!— Maya Simone (@Unspoken_Charm) April 8, 2019
If you don't feel welcome at AU, you're not gonna feel welcome at any post-secondary educational institution you go to. AU is one of the most liberal, diverse, and politically active colleges in the nation. You cannot reasonably expect everywhere you go to be a safe space.— Will Stimson (@StimsonWill) April 8, 2019
"It is my position that people ought to express themselves using whatever terms or vernacular they feel to be appropriate. This extends to any word that exists in any language, including the word I was filmed using," O'Neil said in a statement to the Blackprint. It is not a word that he uses casually, O'Neil said, he but doesn't find anything inherently wrong with people saying it because "the usage of the word is not inherently racist."
O'Neil said he was approached by his neighbor and her two friends while he was sitting in the Anderson 4N lounge with the intent to discuss his usage of the N-word. Specifically, whether or not he uses the word with "the hard R." O'Neil said he made a similar argument about freedom of speech, but the students involved dispute that. He said he was dared to say the n-word on camera, which he did because he believed refusing to do so would "be a betrayal of my principles."
Several students report that this is not the first time there have been conflicts with O'Neil in the dorms nor the first time that he's said the N-word. Two weeks into the semester, O'Neil said the word loudly enough in his dorm room that it was heard by his neighbor, Osman.
O'Neil said he found the sensitivity to speech displayed at AU "genuinely disturbing," from when he first arrived. "I don't know exactly why I did this," he said, "I think I just wanted to do something to feel as if I still had the freedom to express myself." O'Neil went on to say he now understands his views were somewhat misguided. "I am very sorry to the people I upset. I genuinely regret what I have done," he said.
The Residence Hall Association (RHA) also responded to the incident since it occurred in a campus dorm. "Although the RHA Executive Board does not have a single person of color on it, we do not believe this absolves us from our responsibility to speak," the RHA said in a statement. "If anything, it is more important than ever for us to say that, as white people, we should be able to reflect enough on the history of violence against black people to understand why it is so wrong to invoke it through using the n-word."
This is a developing story and may be updated in the future. // We have reached out to Trinity Balla and Tasneem Osman for comment.