UMass officials address Harambe ‘microaggression’

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AMHERST — After an internal dormitory email sent by several resident assistants ordering students to refrain from making jokes about the gorilla Harambe made its way online, sparking a flood of media coverage and criticism, University of Massachusetts officials announced that the school does endorse such policies.

“As an institution that values free speech and exchange of ideas, UMass-Amherst has not taken any steps to ban jokes or references about Harambe the gorilla,” university spokesman Ed Blaguszewski said in a prepared statement provided to the New Boston Post. “The email sent by two well-intentioned undergraduate student resident assistants was a cautionary attempt to advise new students on their floor that the Harambe reference could be considered offensive to the campus’s Harambee community, a residential program focused on African and African-American history and culture, and that all students should be treated with respect and civility.”

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.”

What Blaguszewski’s statement did not address, however, was the language in the RA’s email pertaining to Title IX sexual discrimination laws, which have been updated and interpreted over the years to in addition cover sexual harassment.

“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 mention of “phrases/hashtags” can be interpreted as a reference to popular internet memes that went viral online in the weeks following Harambe’s death in May, as the gorilla’s killing sparked national curiosity.

Jokes about Harambe ensued, filling an entire summer with comical online social media references. Harambe jokes even made their way to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland:

The flurry of jokes arguably peaked after a viral video clip of actor Danny Trejo repeating a crude Harambe reference appeared online.

The joke, a saying of sorts, urges men to expose themselves to honor Harambe (caution — foul language):

So far it is unclear whether students at UMass are merely repeating the phrase or physically performing the action itself.