Community Content: UPUA Rep Apologizes For Remarks on Culture Posters

This post was submitted by a member of the community in response to his remarks made at last week’s UPUA meeting. You can have your content published on Onward State by submitting it here.

The UPUA meeting on October 22 was the greatest learning experience of my life. The statement I am making here is to share my experience, intentions and provide an apology for the inconsistencies in my words, actions and votes. I made it very clear in my statement of opposition to this bill that “This university campus is no place for hate and bigotry…” The individuals I spoke to personally following this meeting tonight can attest firsthand that I take that statement incredibly seriously.

My statements in opposition to this bill were not made with hateful intentions. My goal was not to provoke any degree of tension. I sought to do one thing, and that was attempt to stand up for the God given and constitutionally protected right of free speech that every human being possesses. I in no way meant to foster an environment of combativeness and a sort of us versus them mentality that has done very little to make a positive impact throughout the United States.

My reasoning was very simple, but in the grand scheme of things, it was inconsistent. I’d like to apologize for my inconsistencies and elaborate a little more on the statements I made. The statements I made were statements of fear, statements that at the time, were made to do the little that I could to take Penn State off a dangerous path to what I felt was a justification of censorship.

We’ve all heard of a place called Ferguson, Missouri and some of you may be familiar with the Kent State Shootings several decades ago. In both cases, people fighting for a cause with controversial opinions were and still are violently repressed. Their rights to peacefully assemble and exercise their free speech rights were grossly violated. Their voice was censored and this should never be the case.

While this does not relate directly to a poster that says you’re bringing great offense to folks by dressing a certain way, my logic behind it, and henceforth opposition can be summed up by the following poem found in the US Holocaust Memorial Museum inspired by Pastor Martin Neimoller.

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

I don’t want Penn State to become a place where certain types of speech, good speech, speech like that of Martin Luther King Jr. that preached a message of love, became repressed because the University had a dangerous, subjective power given with the best of intentions to stop language of hate. I stated that as an individual I condemn the actions that the posters made a point of highlighting, but I felt this was a step down this path that should not be taken.

I cannot think of a single person who would want this nightmarish scenario to occur. Life has taught me a lesson never to be forgotten: Never be afraid to take action on the sheer premise of “That could never happen here” or “It can’t happen to me.” You’re just as likely as anyone else if you fail to do something about it. There are countless examples throughout history or even in your daily lives.

Here’s where I was wrong though. I have no problem saying it. I’ve voted for bills advocating for countless issues, groups, people and policies that covered everything from the LGBTA community to change of campus students and I’m damn proud of it. I organized a spectacle of a walk from State College to Harrisburg that advocated for increased State Appropriations to Penn State. I stayed up for 27 hours straight making sure it was a success.

I said this resolution was “None of our business” without realizing that I’ve voted for resolutions that by that logic would have been “None of our business” dozens of times. It was a defensive, hypocritical argument proven wrong especially after Stephen Payne comically placed my argument in the context of advocating for recycling. Recycling is great. We should definitely do more.

Anyway, I screwed up, and I now understand and agree with the argument in regards to being left out or feeling like you’re part of a group that’s not welcome. I’ve already established this wasn’t my goal but it was an unintended consequence of my actions. For that, I apologize for making any group feel excluded. As the bill was brought to the floor by 2/3rds and not included in the agenda, I had less than thirty minutes to read it, attempt to plan my statements and make a decision. I made a knee-jerk reaction and unfortunately, it was the wrong one.

Nobody is perfect, nor should they claim to be. Everyone can find a time in their lives where good intentions lead to a mistake. I’m writing this to admit mine and say I’ve learned something today. Like it or not, we’re students here for a few years but we’re students of life until we die. What’s up to you is how good of a student you are.

Throughout this experience, I learned about the struggle different groups of people. As an individual, I was been humbled in the best way possible. I saw the incredibly underrated power of actually coming together and talking. The events of the 22nd show that we need to do more talking, come together and stop sensationalizing issues like this, especially in the media.

When we decided to sit amongst each other and just talk, we did infinitely more good than sitting atop our figurative walls. Out of an extremely contentious situation came an outcome that was unquestionably good. Personal connections were formed and the foundation for real solutions emerged. I’m incredibly excited for the progress I know we’re going to make.

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About the Author

Ted Ritsick

UPUA Representative

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