CUMB: It's Time to Make Amends
February 25, 2004
After participating in many discussions about last semester's Orgo Night fiasco, I feel compelled to write about some of the thoughts that were discussed, especially the need for the Columbia University Marching Band to publicly apologize for offending many members of our community.
As a Barnard student, I know how to take a joke. During my three and a half years here, I have heard plenty of Barnard jokes. Whenever I hear such a joke, my first reaction is not to laugh or even to be offended; it is to pity the person telling it. Most likely the student delivering the insult is an insecure and ignorant individual who feels threatened by the presence of assertive, intelligent, progressive women. Each of the colleges within this University is unique and amazing in its own right. Members of this community should learn to embrace our differences rather than feel threatened by them.
But the fact that we all understand that the speaker is an insecure individual does not take away from the offensive nature of the comments. When somebody insults Barnard, he or she is insulting more than 2,500 individuals. Similarly, when somebody makes a racist, homophobic, or anti-Semitic "joke," like the ones printed or stated by CUMB, the individual is not simply attacking a vague idea; he or she is insulting many individuals.
I urge all members of this community to realize that hiding a racist, homophobic, and/or anti-Semitic comment under the veil of "humor" does not make the comment any less offensive. We are all privileged to have the right to speak freely, but just because each of us can say whatever we want does not mean that we should.
Moreover, any decent human being would agree that jokes that trivialize domestic violence are heinous. There are women and men on this campus who suffer tremendously because of experiences with domestic violence. There are some topics of discussion that are really not funny, regardless of the context. The fact that many members of our community thought that CUMB's jokes about "battered wives" were funny is absolutely ridiculous and demonstrates that the fight to raise awareness regarding domestic violence is not even close to being over.
I am appalled that people thought it was funny to make such jokes, and I am equally disappointed in the audience that chose to laugh. For those of you who do not understand the severity of the issue, I invite you to attend Take Back the Night in April, and witness how strongly members of your own community feel about domestic violence. Maybe you'll realize for yourself that domestic violence is not a laughing matter.
I will be the first to say that I know that CUMB did not have intend to hurt any member of this community and that Orgo Night is a University tradition. Nonetheless, that does not give CUMB the right to attack members of this community without dealing with the consequences. By acknowledging that they were offensive, CUMB is not relinquishing its right to speak freely. It is merely acknowledging that it messed up and is clarifying to the community that it did not have the intention to offend.
I find it so pathetic that in my many private conversations with members of CUMB's leadership, each person said things along the lines of, "I never realized...I feel so bad..." but each of them has refused to acknowledge these sentiments in public.
After hearing promises for three months that CUMB would officially address Orgo Night, I am extremely disappointed that CUMB has yet to publicly deal with this issue. Averill Leslie and I, after deciding to write opinion pieces for the Spectator, invited CUMB's manager to write a piece representing the band's perspective--but he declined the opportunity. As a leader of a campus organization myself, I know that if the group I represented seriously offended members of the University community, I would be the first to apologize for our mistakes.
It is more than time for the band, after hearing people speak out so strongly against their actions, to acknowledge their indiscretion publicly and apologize for their actions.
On a side note, anybody who believes that CUMB was kept out of the Quad last winter because of what they said in Butler is grossly mistaken. Before making a big hoopla over freedom of speech and accusing Barnard of being an institution that suppresses First Amendment rights, I suggest you approach a Barnad administrator who can give you the real facts.
The author is a Barnard College senior majoring in Political Science. She is president of Barnard's Student Government Association.