It has been a difficult few days trying to thoughtfully and fairly sort out facts, feelings and ethical decision making about what happened at the BYU-Duke volleyball game on Aug. 26. I was there and so were my students.
What is clear
I believe the account of Rachel Richardson about the verbal abuse of her and Duke team members at the Smith Fieldhouse. We need to respect that. If someone feels unsafe, we should respond to that. She deserves support from all for her traumatic experience.
Moreover, BYU students agree with questions raised by Richardson about if and why students or fans near the person didn’t do something. That’s troubling to them. That’s an important question and the campus community needs to make sure everyone at BYU is willing to stand up against racism. Currently, there is not good information to indicate who or how many people heard these statements.
What’s not so clear
Most of the crowd, including students in the stands, didn’t hear or see racially directed actions or speech. I too was in the stands and saw or heard no racially charged speech or actions.
Maybe it was too noisy to hear. To be sure, there is no evidence that I can find that shows there was racist activities on the scale some indicate. The Duke team members said they heard a racist fan who wasn’t identified until after the game. The person has now been banned from athletic events. We need to seriously ask: Is it a one-off, a group of vile fans or complicit institutional rot?
What Richardson’s peers at BYU say
Students who I have spoken to in classes about the incident said they were shocked, saddened and confused about Richardson’s account of the game. At the same time, one student said that it’s unfair that students and faculty who do try to be inclusive are unfairly labeled racists. That’s not us. That’s not BYU, they say.
One student wrote, “I definitely think BYU is not racist, but we do have some people who are immature and reflect racist behaviors for sure and who sometimes say barbaric things. But that doesn’t make us all racist.”
What national journalists are reporting and what I and my students saw at the game seem like two different events. Students I talked to knew nothing about the incident until after the game, learning different versions of the incident through social media channels. There are no student eyewitness voices in news reporting, except statements from Duke team members or BYU athletics. A journalistic ethical breach? Yes. Unfair? Yes.
One student wrote: “I was close to the ROC section and on the court for the entire duration of the game. My experience at that game was just like any other. Loud and energetic, but nothing out of the ordinary. Given the fact that there was a record attendance, I realize that if there was something said, I most likely couldn’t hear it.”
Perhaps, in hindsight BYU could have done more, but given Duke’s team wishes and information at the moment, what were they to do? Does that equate to institutional racism or incompetence? Hardly.
Whatever the reality, I vehemently beg to differ with those who say that BYU continues to foster and harbor racists and racist ideologies. Across campus there are diversity and inclusion committees who have attempted to change culture and root out racism. There are countless efforts to make BYU more inclusive. There’s not enough space to list all of them here.
People need to seek the truth, but more importantly we need to end this kind of polarization based on extreme views and give people the benefit of the doubt. Whatever happened to listening and understanding rather than jumping to conclusions without complete information?
Joel Campbell is an associate professor in the BYU School of Communications. He teaches media ethics, journalism research and global communications courses. His opinion is his own and does not reflect that of BYU.