URBANA — Hateful tweets can be powerful, but so are apologies.
Sitting before hundreds of University of Illinois students, faculty and staff, Kimberly Arquines on Thursday night apologized for sending one of the many angry tweets last week that were aimed at Chancellor Phyllis Wise, after Wise kept the campus open despite bitterly cold weather.
"I partook in the Twitter fiasco. I got caught up in it. I never intended to hurt anyone," Arquines said.
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After her tweet was one of several highlighted by the website BuzzFeed.com, Arquines said she went into hiding.
But after two days, she decided she could continue hiding, "or I could own up to my actions."
Arquines wrote a letter of apology to Wise, tracked her down and read it to the chancellor.
"I will be a better person," she said.
"I hope my peers will become better people too," she said to a round of applause Thursday night.
Arquines read her letter of apology to a crowd gathered at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts for "Campus Conversation: Moving Beyond Digital Hate."
At the event, students had the opportunity to talk about how they were affected by the racist and sexist posts from last week.
Faculty members, including Chris Benson, an associate professor of journalism and African-American studies, and Yoon Pak, associate professor of education and Asian-American studies, offered insight as well.
Several campus units, such as the Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations, set up tables to hand out information about their upcoming events and to invite students to write on Post-Its to explore such questions as "what does #onecampus mean" or "I am inclusive when I ..."
"I know we are better than this," said international student Tianjun Jennifer Sun, who said she felt ashamed when she read the tweets directed at the chancellor. "I know people sending out those comments were a small group, but I'm sure we don't want those small groups to represent us. ... It's not who we are."
Sun said she knows a lot of people thought they were jokes, and may have said "they're funny. Get over it."
But laughing at those "jokes" is part of the process of marginalizing minorities, she said.
By not standing up in those situations or even by laughing at those jokes or comments, "it just adds to the micro-aggressions ... and contributes to the feeling of not feeling safe on campus," she said.
Wise was unable to attend the event, but delivered her remarks via a recording. She was in Santa Monica, Calif., attending a meeting of the Rand Corp., where she is a board member. The forum was originally scheduled for Tuesday evening but was moved because of a winter storm watch that night.
In her remarks, Wise said the students in attendance at the forum "get it." People should understand that "encouraging a community where diverse opinion and differences of origin, race, sexual orientation and religious belief is the essential foundation for everything we hope to do as a university."
"But there are obviously a number of people outside of this hall who don't fully understand the consequences or the long-term costs if we do not continually strive to create that environment. And I'm not saying they don't care and that they don't agree that diversity of idea and perspective is valuable and important. What I'd suggest is that they just aren't fully awakened to this yet."
Last week's events, Wise said, "woke up a lot of us."
"And with that, we have an opportunity to shrink that gap between those like you who have come to understand that a positive and welcoming campus environment is defined by our constant attention and active participation and those who realized last week just how much we all have to lose when we don't all respect each other," Wise said.
"We talk about inclusion, tolerance, loving one another, but what are we doing in our everyday actions?" asked UI student body president Damani Bolden. It's going to take a series of tough conversations, he said, in small groups and larger settings like the one Thursday night.
"This is going to be a long road, but this is the start, the remarkable start," Bolden said.
Draft of the remarks prepared by Chancellor Phyllis Wise for Thursday night's Campus Conversation, "Moving Beyond Digital Hate":
Good evening, and I am sorry that the schedule change means I'm not able to be here in person tonight.
Thank you all for coming together to consider how we, as a college campus, a local community and a nationally-respected university, can take disturbing and disruptive incidents like the one we saw last week and transform them into opportunities that foster a more civil and more consistently respectful environment for debate and discussion.
There has obviously been a lot of talk about what those offensive Twitter comments said about the University and about our campus environment. And as you might expect, I certainly gave that a lot of thought myself. And here's where I've come to settle on that topic.
Yes, these were disturbing and mean-spirited words. But I truly believe they were limited to a relatively small minority of our community. And the nearly universal and immediate condemnation and refutation of these hateful remarks from thousands of our students, faculty, staff and alumni, says to me that Illinois is a university striving to be a home to reasoned and reasonable debate and a place where we can all find a welcome home.
But, with that said, we did see that we must continue to work every day to ensure that we truly are living up to that promise of welcome.
Tonight, clearly, this is a hall full of students, staff and faculty who "get it." You understand that encouraging a community where diverse opinion and differences of origin, race, sexual orientation and religious belief is the essential foundation for everything we hope to do as a university. And you also understand that establishing that kind of inclusive and respectful environment requires constant attention and effort. It isn't to be taken for granted. And we saw exactly how disruptive it can be to our core missions when we aren't in that place.
But there are obviously a number of people outside of this hall who don't fully understand the consequences or the long term costs if we do not continually strive to create that environment. And I'm not saying they don't care and that they don't agree that diversity of idea and perspective is valuable and important. What I'd suggest is that they just aren't fully awake yet.
Last week's events, I think, woke up a lot of us.
And with that, we have an opportunity to shrink that gap between those like you who have come to understand that a positive and welcoming campus environment is defined by our constant attention and active participation and those who realized last week just how much we all have to lose when we don't all respect each other.
I believe we saw both some of the worst and the best of this university come out in the past 7 or 8 days.
And I'll say that while I certainly appreciated the many, many personal messages of support I received, the messages and comments that made me the proudest of our Illinois family were those that stood up not for me, but for the true character of the university. Those that basically said, "Hey, this isn't how we at Illinois behave and this isn't how we argue, debate and discuss."
These are the messages that I hope you think about tonight. And as you have these conversation here — and as you continue them across the campus, or across the world through social media, I ask that you strive to craft suggestions that will help us — the faculty and administration and your peers — to ensure that going forward our debates on issues as important as race or as relatively minor as a snow day — are all carried out with the level of civility and respect that the world expects from one of its greatest public universities.