Campus Free Speech

UMass-Amherst: Harambe Jokes Are Racist Microaggressions, Violate Title IX

'Any negative remarks regarding 'Harambe' will be seen as a direct attack to our campus's African American community.'



Poor Harambe. The gorilla murdered at the Cincinnati Zoo after a child wandered into its enclosure has now essentially suffered a second, equally odious death: this time at the hands of humorless University of Massachusetts residential advisors who told students to stop making Harambe jokes.

These jokes "are not only derogatory but also micro-aggressions," two RAs wrote in a letter to the UMass-Amherst students who live on their floor. Failure to desist could even be a violation of Title IX, they suggested.

You're probably wondering what's going on here. Some background: Post-death, Harambe has become a popular internet meme. "Harambe died for our sins," is one. "Harambe the Gorllia Mauled By Cecil the Lion in Animal Heaven" is another. Some people even included Harambe on a list of celebrities we lost in 2016, like Prince and David Bowie. Don't feel bad if you don't get the joke—Socialist Party presidential candidate Jill Stein was confused, too.

Another flavor of the meme is "dicks out for Harambe," which mostly consists of people chanting exactly that. Danny Trejo is somehow involved. It's this iteration that seems to have deeply offended the UMas-Amherst RAs: one gathers that some students had written "dicks out for Harambe" on each other's whiteboards.

As it turns out, "Harambe" is also the name of the university's residential community for students of African heritage. The RAs—who identify themselves as "Ryan and Colleen" in their letter—are concerned that these students could take offense.

Student Jarod Sasdi posted a screenshot of the letter on Twitter. The full thing is worth reading, but here's a breathlessly tone deaf snippet:

"Any negative remarks regarding 'Harambe' will be seen as a direct attack to our campus's African American community. Please be careful what gets written on your whiteboards, as well as what you write on them. If you are not the one writing these remarks, please let us or the RA on duty know."

When asked by Campus Reform whether the letter would put an end to the Harambe jokes, Sasdi said "absolutely not."

"We will stand by our friend no matter the consequences," said Sasdi in an interview. (The friend is Harambe.)

This is all fairly hilarious. Less hilarious is the RAs' suggestion that saying or writing "dicks out for Harambe" might be a Title IX violation:

"To be very clear: using… phrases/hashtags which encourage the exposition of body parts runs the risk of being reported as a Title IX incident. These are sexual assault incidences that not only get reported to Community Standards, but also to the Dean of Students. Needless to say, it is a very serious incident—especially for a first year student!

Anyway, please be safe this weekend, and watch out for any of these phrases. We need to be sure to respect all UMass community members.

Title IX—the catch-22 of modern campus life—strikes again. There is no facet of campus life that remains undisturbed by its creeping tendrils.

The RAs are wrong, of course: federal sex-equality laws do not prohibit students from telling stupid jokes. But the mere fact that students in a position of authority would cite Title IX as evidence of self-censorship as an official requirement of dormitory life shows how destructive the federal government's guidance on the subject has been.

In any case, I would encourage students to write "dicks out for Harambe and free speech" on their whiteboards next time. As for Colleen and Ryan: uh, chill out, okay?