Remember Harambe, the gorilla who was destroyed at the Cincinnati Zoo in May when a toddler accidentally fell into the primate’s enclosure? The ape’s name has surfaced again, this time at the University of Massachusetts, where students are warned not to make jokes about Harambe. Such jokes have been ruled tasteless — but not because they invoke the name of an innocent creature that was killed because of someone’s carelessness. Rather it’s because those jokes are racist attacks on black people.
In an email message posted online Monday, UMass residential advisers (RAs) Colleen and Ryan (their last names aren’t included in the email) warn that any additional Harambe jokes will be interpreted as a hateful direct assault on UMass blacks.
The line of reasoning is based on the fact that UMass has a special affinity housing program for black students. As it happens, this housing program is called Harambee, which in Swahili means “the point where people pull together.” Because of this coincidence, Colleen and Ryan warn that Harambe jokes are completely unacceptable, since they “misrepresent” the “positive connotations” of the affinity hall.
“[Harambe comments] are not only derogatory but also microaggressions to some UMass Students,” the message reads:
Any negative remarks regarding ‘Harambe’ will be seen as a direct attack to our campus’s African American community. Please be careful what gets written on your whiteboards, as well as what gets written on them. If you are not the one writing these remarks, please let us or the RA on duty know.
Besides warning against micro-aggressing blacks, the RAs also make the remarkable claim that the popular #DicksOutForHarambe meme is a form of “sexual assault” that may violate federal law.
“Using popularizes [sic] phrases/hashtags which ecnourage the exposition of body parts runs the risk of being reported as a Title IX incident,” the message continues, referring to the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in schools receiving federal money. “These are 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 message concludes by encouraging students to police the community for the offensive Harambe-isms so they can be reported.
Despite the RAs’ worry, conventional definitions of sexual assault require some kind of physical touching, meaning the mere repetition of a popular meme would not qualify.
In any case, the warning appears to have fallen on deaf ears.
“We will stand by our friend [Harambe] no matter the consequences,” UMass student Jarod Sasdi told Campus Reform. He said the RAs had their judgment “clouded” by a lack of knowledge of Harambe and what he represented.
This report, by Blake Neff, was cross-posted by arrangement with the Daily Caller News Foundation.