The low temperature in Champaign-Urbana, Ill., on Monday morning was -6, with wind chills into the -20s.
That’s cold, but certainly to be expected in mid-winter in the upper Midwest, so the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana issued a statement
Sunday that classes would proceed as normal, while advising that students should be careful as they travel.
That didn’t go over well with quite a few students. Some started a Change.org petition
to cancel classes. As college students often do, many took their complaints to Twitter. In particular, they voiced their displeasure with Chancellor Phyllis Wise, who is Asian-American, through what Buzzfeed
called flat-out racism and sexism.
Using a hashtag that combines an expletive and Wise’s first name, students tweeted comments such as, “Phyllis Wise is the Kim Jong Un of chancellors,” and, “Asians and women aren’t responsible for their actions.” And those are the tame ones.
Eventually, people critical of the sexist and racist comments in the threat took over the hashtag.
One wrote, “I agree it sucks going to class when it's freezing. Be an adult. Stay home if it's safer, but don't make racial slur.”
contacted UIUC alumna Suey Park, an active Twitter campaigner, who said she wasn’t surprised at the students’ reaction. She wrote, in part:
We can’t continue turning away from holding students accountable for their behavior in digital spaces. “Safe spaces” are a university aspiration, but may disassociate online behavior from student life, which is concerning in an increasingly digital age.
Even so, the university has yet to publicly chastise students or even acknowledge their behavior. The uproar puts UIUC officials in a tricky position. If they let it go without comment, it seems like they’re tacitly condoning it. If they reprimand students publicly, it could further damage student morale or raise tension between the student body and the administration.
What do you say, PR Daily readers? How should the university respond? Should it respond at all?