UMass-Amherst says Harambe jokes are micro-aggressions, violate Title IX

Printed from:

AMHERST — Students at the University of Massachusetts’ flagship campus are going ape over a recent email from resident assistants ordering them not to crack jokes about Harambe, the fallen Cincinnati gorilla who happened to have a very similar name as that of a designated African heritage student living area.

“We wanted to take a moment to address some phrases that are being written on the whiteboards — specifically ones involving ‘Harambe,’” read an email sent over Labor Day weekend to freshmen students living at UMass-Amherst’s Sycamore Hall. “We understand that social media has been popularizing Harambe in some crude ways, which may appear as funny to groups of people.

“However, these comments are not only derogatory, but also but micro-aggressions to some UMass students.”

UMass offers students the option to apply to live “defined residential communities,” one of which happens to be “Harambee: African Heritage Student Community.” According to the university’s website, “this community is designed to support students who are of African descent, identify within the African Diaspora and/or wish to learn more about African culture and celebrate different African Diaspora cultures.”

As both the website and the RA’s email to students point out, the term “Harambee” is a Swahili word meaning “the pulling together point” or “the point at which things come together.”

“It has very positive connotations, but current social media has been misrepresenting it,” the RAs told students in their email. “The floor has been in existence for many years, so any negative remarks about ‘Harambe’ will be seen as a direct attack to our campus’s African-American community.”

At one point in the jumbled email the RAs attempt to make a connection between Harambe and Title IX anti-discrimination policies.

“To be very clear, using popularizes phrases/hashtags which encourage the exposition of body parts runs the risk of being reported as a Title IX incident,” the email states. “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!”

The name Harambe entered American pop culture in May, when a 17-year-old gorilla of that same name living at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden was shot and killed after rag-dolling a wayward toddler who had fallen into his living area.

As for the email to students, a scan of social media indicates it may have resulted in the opposite of its desired effect: