Earlier this month, an e-mail sent out by David Pickering, the Executive Vice-President for Administration and Human Resources at Olivet stated that a recent Facebook post utilizing “discriminatory and hateful speech” was made that allegedly came from a former ONU student. However, after further investigation by both Public Safety and local police officials, it was ultimately discovered that no such student existed.
The issue was first brought to light by Public Safety, who found and forwarded the post to Pickering. As he described it, the content went far beyond racial slurs and even promoted violence towards the minority it disparaged.
“We would not expect any of our students to talk about anybody in a way that was hurtful or expressed any sort of racism or discrimination at all,” Pickering said.
It is still uncertain what the unknown poster’s aim was in including Olivet as a part of their profile.
“It could be that this person was frustrated with other people that they had listed in their profile—their former employer, their former high school, their former whatever. And when it came to places they’ve studied, they put in the school name just to put in the name, and the first thing that popped in their brain was Olivet. Or, it could be that they did it intentionally. We really don’t know,” Pickering said.
Initially, the university was hesitant to draw extra attention to a post that a large majority of students were unaware of.
“You hate to even bring it up, because then people will go out, they will read a post that was hateful and doesn’t bring any value,” Pickering said.
“However, knowing that some students did know about the incident and some students may have wondered about it, we thought ‘Ok, we want to make sure all our students know that we don’t tolerate hateful speech or language.’”
Although the post may not have been widespread, some students still dislike the idea of their school being associated with such negative thoughts and feelings.
“I didn’t see it, but I just couldn’t imagine someone from a place like Olivet ever talking like that,” Junior Jennifer Doran said.
“It affects students if they feel that another student is making hateful comments, or racial comments. No student would want to believe that another student does that,” Pickering said.
Although that may not have been the case in this scenario, the nature of social media makes it easy to spread hatred and perpetuate lies anonymously, he adds.
Pickering assures students that Olivet is devoted to the safety of its students, both in-person and online. This is further expressed in a Facebook statement released by the University, stating that ONU “does not condone or tolerate discriminatory or hateful language.”
Although the anonymous nature of this particular attack complicates matters slightly, Public Safety is still working with Facebook around the clock in the event that an incident like this occurs again.
Any students who do witness discrimination or hate speech of any kind are urged to speak up.
“Our goal is that hopefully, if students see, read, or hear something that sounds odd, that they would bring it up so that it can be investigated, rather than just believing it,” Pickering said.