Students speak out and take initiative in response to N-Word incident
students speak out
Freshmen Tasneem Osman and Trinity Balla have spoken out about their version of events. They dispute some of parts of Aise Jacob O’Neil’s account and have provided their side of the story in an interview with the Blackprint.
On the night of the incident, Balla recalls waving to O’Neil while walking through the hallway. Osman, who posted the original video on twitter, told Balla she had heard rumors that O’ Neil said the N-word with a “hard R”. A pronunciation of the word that is often seen as having a harsher and more racially charged tone. Unlike when it is used with an “A,” which is considered a term of endearment by some. Balla was shocked and confused to hear that, so she and Osman decided to ask O’Neil.
Balla recalls walking into the lounge and saying: “Hi Aisa, I heard a rumor that you use the N-word with the ‘hard R’,” to which he replied, “It’s just a word, but, to be concise, yes I do.”
“I never actually heard him say it before then,” Osman said. “That [Saturday night] was my first time hearing that word from him. But I have heard multiple things from him before that I will not repeat.”
O’Neil disagrees. “They knew I used the term before because one of them heard me use it in my room,” he said in a statement to The Blackprint. “During the discussion one of them asked me ‘If I believed what I was saying, would I be willing to use the word on camera?’ O’Neil said. “I interpreted it as a dare.” Balla and Osman don’t agree that it was a dare, but all involved confirm O’Neil consented to being filmed.
After the video cuts off, the conversation continued. O’Neil provides an explanation similar to the one previously provided to the Blackprint about his choice express himself with whichever words he chooses. Balla responds: “Why do you think it’s okay to use the N-word knowing that it was used by slave masters while they beat their slaves?” At this point, Balla said, she just wanted to educate him and let him know it is not okay to use that word. “I didn't know how else to put it. I wanted him to look at it from a point of view that he would have a personal connection and understanding to why this word is so oppressive,” she said.
Balla said the altercation made her emotional, but she did not want to cry in front of him, nor did she want to be stereotyped as the “angry black woman.” “We are the victims in the situation. He said a slur to us,” Balla said. She and Osman would never bully O’Neil, but they are still being called bullies despite remaining calm, she said. “No matter what I say, I will always sound aggressive to some audiences,” Balla said.
Last night a student used a racist term in a discussion about freedom of expression. The University does not condone this language, and recognizes its harmful impact. Staff have been working with those involved & affected. For next steps & full statement: https://t.co/CANee1aUoB— American University (@AmericanU) April 8, 2019
The girls also take issue with AU’s initial response email. “The first sentence is inaccurate. There was no discussion of free speech,” she said. Osman claims that O’Neil did not refer to free speech to defend himself at all. “We were having a discussion over my usage of the word. My point was that it was within anyone’s right to use any words they wished to express themselves. Therefore it was a discussion about freedom of expression in general and that word in particular,” O’Neil said in response.
Osman and Balla filed a report with their RA following the incident. Since then, they spoke RHA representatives and were contacted by Lisa Freeman, the director of residence life. Other administrators have yet to reach out to them, but Black faculty have connected with them. They talked about the hostility they feel amongst white co-workers.
Some have suggested extra time with AUx classes as a part of O’Neil’s discipline, but Balla feels there needs to be “a radical change” to the AUX2 curriculum because the history of the N-word is not taught. Balla also wants there to be a citation on O’Neil’s AU student record regarding this incident along with his placement into an anti-racism training.
O’Neil previously expressed regret for his actions and said he was “sorry to the people I upset.” Osman and Balla both agree that “This is not just about [O’Neil], this is about how AU is handling this situation. This is about him being in a community that allows him to feel comfortable saying the things he's saying. How does he not see how this hurts us?”
Some students are taking the initiative into their own hands, like the AUSG undergraduate senate which has demanded tangible action from the university. The resolution was introduced and passed in the AUSG undergraduate senate on Sunday, fairly unanimously. It was proposed in response to student outrage and what student representatives felt was an inadequate response from AU.
“One thing that I made evident at the meeting is that I’m looking for tangible action,” Freshman Class Senator Analyza Jenkins said. Jenkins was one of the creators of the resolution, along with SPA senator Parker Butler and Campus-at-Large Senator Sean-Matthew Flores. They want it to focus simultaneously on the impact that the incident had on students of color and on the repercussions for Aise Jacob O’Neil, the student involved.
The resolution advocates for the removal of “the offending student” from University Housing because, as it states, “housing is a privilege that should not be reserved for those who target students of color.” The document goes on to commended those who bring awareness to bias issues and calls on the University to show it is “unwilling” to accept these behaviors.
The senators who proposed the resolution reached out to several administrators and will be having a meeting later this week on how to move forward with Vice President of Campus Life, Fanta Aw. “If AU is going to run on this platform of diversity equity and inclusion, we should fully execute that… to ensure that students of color, and all students, feel welcome,” Jenkins said.
Petition for black spaces
Some students outside of AUSG have started their own initiative: a petition for Black spaces at American University. The petition states encourages people sign if they believe American University “should invest in looking for spaces for Black students,” much like the Black houses at Georgetown and George Washington University. The petition is not visibly linked to a specific AU club or organization, but was created within the AU network, most likely by concerned students.