The issue with Sheffield’s new policy is that, firstly it assumes being called out for these microaggressions will change anything. Not to be cynical, but I doubt having some guy in a ‘University of Sheffield’ shirt walk up to a racist and saying, “stop your racism” will make that racist even blink, let alone change their actions. A black friend of mine once told me a story about a group of white guys in their flat hallway saying the ‘n-word’ and as above, I don’t think being told to change one’s language is going to make them feel anything other than that they’ll need to hide their racism, which doesn’t solve the problem.
And for the people who it might help, why wouldn’t an email do the same thing? The people who would be willing to change their opinions and actions don’t need to feel publicly called out. That just breeds further negativity. There’s a huge difference between a close friend saying, “this is actually bad” and actually trying to help you to understand, and a stranger who says, “well, actually…” and imposes their opinion upon you. It’s difficult to learn in that situation.
The problem with this job is that it further makes the side that wants to stop hate speech look bad. It’s the actions of a university that wants to appear to be doing something, even if that thing is ridiculous, because it’s easier than actually finding the cause of the issue. I think it gives the idea of the University ‘policing thought’, when really the aim should be to change the culture. That isn’t done by paying people to harass fellow students, it’s done by positively promoting fair thoughts and fair actions, encouraging students to help each other for good reason; to be good, not for money, but by killing with kindness, rather than ostracising and making a public show of it. When you do something like this for money, it just makes you feel like the thing is cheap, but when you do it because it’s right, it changes the whole game. Those who don’t understand the microaggressions aren’t going to feel like they’re learning, they’ll feel like they need to hide and stop participating in campus life. You teach with heart, not fear.
And this isn’t to say that this isn’t an issue which needs to be solved, it really is, but you don’t solve it like this. It just breeds contempt for a good idea, attaching a negative connotation. Please do help your friends, help me know when I make a mistake, help me learn, but please don’t do it like this. It only makes people think the worst of those trying to help and we need positivity and kindness more than ever.