This story was updated at 11:30 p.m.
A TikTok video posted by a Temple student has received backlash on Twitter for its characterization of the neighborhood around the university as “the ghetto.”
The video depicts Liam McDowell, a freshman marketing major, walking from Temple to nearby houses mouthing audio from the Real Housewives of Atlanta in which Nene Leakes exclaims “oo, ah, the ghetto.” The video is captioned, “going to a city school and walking two blocks off-campus for a party.”
Tweets criticizing the video have been liked and retweeted thousands of times.
“I swear so many college students don’t have respect for the city their school is in, as if these universities aren’t displacing people and changing neighborhoods,” a user wrote in response to the video. “Y’all are the visitors in this situation if you’re not from the area.”
“We appreciate you bringing this video to our attention,” the university wrote in response to a Twitter user on Thursday. “This is upsetting, disappointing and never acceptable.”
In a statement emailed to The Temple News, McDowell apologized for making the video, calling it “insensitive” and “a mistake.”
“The video does not reflect the person that I am,” McDowell wrote. “I have started the process of educating myself about the surrounding neighborhoods by speaking with people who seek to teach others like me about local community issues and I would like to be a part of the dialogue on these issues going forward.”
The student in question had been provisionally accepted to serve as an Owl Team Leader earlier this semester but the offer was rescinded when Temple administration was made aware of the video, said Ray Betzner, a spokesperson for the university.
Owl Team Leaders are responsible for assisting with summer orientation for new students. The student who posted the TikTok had not yet gone through the orientation and education sessions required for leaders, Betzner said.
“Part of what they learn is that as ambassadors and representatives of Temple University, the things that they post on their personal social media are to be construed as being representative of the university,” Betzner said.
The Temple University Progressive NAACP called on both the student and the university to apologize earlier today in a press release that was posted on Twitter and Facebook by Gary Lawery, the organization’s press and publicity chair.
“Racial insensitivity serves no purpose on Temple’s campus and is not conducive to the already fragile relationship between Temple University and the North Philadelphia community,” Lawery wrote in the press release.
This is why and what the Stadium Stompers we’re trying to avoid by teaching the students about the neighborhoods and what came before them! We were teaching them about the historic sites in the neighborhood and Temple University’s purpose but so many of them over there in their ivory tower are afraid of the truth and the people who tell it! The Stompers and others have requested educational sessions for students but clearly that hasn’t occurred.
But Could It Be Termed a Ghetto?
Professor Amy Wax was prohibited from teaching a first-year course in civil procedure for stating that, in her experience with Black students over 17 years at Penn, few had performed in the top half of their class – a statement which the administration could have easily refuted, if it were untrue, by providing basic statistical information without invading the privacy of specific students. However, it never did.
Also, her termination was sought for asserting that “that our country will be better off with more whites and fewer nonwhites.”
Whether or not our country would “be better off” if our immigration policy favored Caucasians over other races or ethnic groups – an empirical or at least empirical-sounding assertion – should be capable of rational analysis and criticism based upon statistical and other reliable evidence, not name calling (“racist”) or isolated anecdotal examples of non-Caucasian immigrants who have been successful.
Now, similarly, a Temple student is being criticized for making statements which, although objectionable, may well be factually justified; that an area some two blocks from his campus could well be perceived and described as a “ghetto.”
The Oxford English Dictionary defines “ghetto” as “a slum section of an American city occupied predominantly by members of a minority group who live there because of social or economic pressure.”
“Most scholars view the iconic social form of the ghetto as having a particular racial component, and as being defined by social isolation, residential segregation, gross inequality, consistent poverty, and crime.”
So, if the area noted by the student clearly and obviously is not racially segregated, does not have many lower income persons living in poverty, hasn’t a higher-than-average crime rate, etc., it probably would be appropriate to criticize his statement as incorrect or at least misleading.
But if it could reasonably appear to be a ghetto, as that term is generally understood by many people, this factually based and possibly accurate statement should not be criticized – and the student should certainly not be punished – simply because some people might label it “racist,” “derogatory,” etc.
Simply because some regard a statement as “racist” – or “sexist” or “homophobic” or “hateful” – doesn’t mean that it may not be factually correct, or at very least a reasonable observation for a student to make.
Indeed, if students are discouraged, much less subject to punishment, for mentioning characteristics of neighborhoods – Washington’s “black elite” living in the “Gold Coast” section; Beverly Hills, 90210, upscale and star-studded; “Hell’s Kitchen,” Chinatown, Little Italy, etc. in New York City – it would inhibit robust discussion of many social and political issues, including how to address what many people recognize as the problems causing and caused by ghettos.
Professors, of all people, should recognize that many statements, which some might characterize as “racist,” may in fact be correct or at least arguable, and central to rational robust academic discussions of important issues such as affirmative action, racial profiling, incarceration, the death penalty, etc.
PUBLIC INTEREST LAW PROFESSOR JOHN BANZHAF GWU LAW SCHOOL