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An Offhand Remark

Monday, Aug. 5, 2013

The best student comment on "An Offhand Remark" wins a $100 Amazon gift certificate. Entries must be received by midnight, Sunday, August 18th, 2013. Subscribe to the blog (by RSS or by e-mail in the right hand column) for updates.

**DISCLAIMER: All characters and scenarios in this post are fictional.**

Lindsey and Danielle are new freshman roommates. Although they come from very different backgrounds—Lindsey is from a small town in Minnesota and Danielle is from Los Angeles—they’ve already bonded. The third week of the quarter, Lindsey and Danielle go together to a party. They’re having a great time chatting with some people they’ve just met when Danielle makes a crack about the “chink” who lives on their floor and how she will probably “mess up the curve” in the calculus class they’re taking together because Asians don’t do anything but study. Lindsey is taken aback. She didn’t think Danielle was the type of person who would make such an offensive comment.

Should Lindsey say something immediately? Should she wait and talk to Danielle in private? Or should she just let the comment go without remarking on it at all?

Useful Resources:

A Framework for Ethical Decision-Making

One of College's Most Exacting Lessons: Roommates

College Relationships: Roommate Tips for Dorm Life

How to Handle a Bad College Roommate

Comments Comments

Luna said on Aug 6, 2013
I think that this is a situation that students at Santa Clara frequently face. From my personal experiences, I?ve seen people close to me encounter this problem. The biggest obstacle Lindsey faces is standing up to Danielle. They?ve only been friends for 3 weeks - a relatively short time to develop a strong and lasting friendship. So Lindsey could potentially risk losing Danielle as a friend and having a rough roommate relationship if she mishandles the situation. She can take many approaches to solve this problem, but I would not recommend speaking to Danielle immediately after the comment at the party nor upon their return to their residence hall. It may make Lindsey seem overly sensitive and reactionary to bring it up so quickly. Nevertheless, if the comment is very alarming to Lindsey she should take a less invasive approach that focuses on Danielle as a whole - rather than one comment. It?s important to note that this is the first time Lindsey has heard Danielle has said a racist comment after three weeks of living with her. By no means should Lindsey allow that one comment to change her perception of Danielle - it would not be fair to Danielle. Instead, Lindsey should monitor Danielle's comments moving forward and see if offensive remarks are a recurring theme. If so, I would suggest that Lindsey approach Danielle privately regarding the matter and express her concerns. Ideally, this gives their friendship time to mature and gives them both more time to better understand each other. Increased familiarity will also give Lindsey a better idea on how to approach her roommate in a more constructive manner. - Like - 2 people like this.
Morris said on Aug 7, 2013
Since Lindsey and Danielle have only known each other for such a short amount of time, it's difficult to know the intent behind Danielle's comment. Sometimes, students may say offhand remarks, without a full-on "racist" intent, as an attempt at a joke in socially stressful situations (i.e. a college party for a freshman who is 3 weeks into a new school). Lindsey should not judge Danielle's moral fiber merely based on this one incident. After all, the beginning of college for a freshman is a stressful time and Danielle may not be acting like her true self. Like the previous comment noted, Lindsey should get to know Danielle and give their relationship some time to develop. However, there is a huge distinction between not "judging" Danielle for her actions and confronting her about the issue. As brand new roommates about to embark on a year long journey, the worst thing this pair can do is not communicate with each other. Sure, you don't want to "nag" about every little thing, but for an issue as severe as this, it is absolutely right for Lindsey to bring it up in private, perhaps when they return to their room after the party. If the issue is swept under the rug, it will most definitely harm Lindsey's relationship with Danielle in the near future because this isn't really an issue Lindsey can "forget about" or just "get over." Since Lindsey was severely bothered by it, she should talk to Danielle as soon as they're in a comfortable setting. When talking to Danielle, Lindsey should be careful not to take on an attacking or demeaning tone because this should be a discussion rather than a disciplinary hearing. Lindsey can bring up Danielle's comment and simply state that she felt uncomfortable about the offhand remark and that she hopes Danielle didn't really mean what she said back at the party. Bringing up the issue in a mutually comfortable setting (like their room) can reduce the risk of a negative reaction on Danielle's part. If she is around friends or peers when the issue is brought up, she may find herself being defensive or blowing Lindsey off. A comfortable, private setting can help the chances of Danielle taking the concern seriously and reflecting on her offhand remark. The biggest lesson to take from this dilemma is that although bringing up the issue may seem daunting at first, communicating what's bothering you early on in the year will allow better communication as the year goes on, leading to a much more open, honest, and positive roommate experience. - Like
Abby said on Aug 15, 2013
In this situation, it is obvious that Lindsey and Danielle have grown up in completely different cultures. Danielle has most likely experienced diversity through living in a big city. On the other hand, it's unlikely that Lindsey has experienced such diversity in her up-bringing in a small town. Because of these differences, I believe that Danielle should wait until they are in a private setting to discuss the seriousness of the racial innuendo with Lindsey. This would avoid the risk of ruining Lindsey and Danielle's relationship by Danielle embarrassing Lindsey in front of potential friends. It is important not to make Lindsey feel under attack when you confront her. Stay away from "you-"statements, and stick to a comment such as, "it may make the people you're with uncomfortable" or "it could definitely hurt feelings if overheard by someone of that race." If offensive comments such as this become a regular occurrence coming from Lindsey's mouth, Danielle should begin to say something immediately. If this happens, it is obvious that the last remark didn't sink in. It would be likely that Lindsey would second-guess speaking offensively if she knew that Danielle would embarrass her in front of her friends. Again, in efforts to preserve a friendship, it's important not to make Lindsey feel under attack. A comment such as, "I've heard she's really nice, so I won't judge her before I get to know her" would suffice. - Like
El said on Aug 20, 2013
It is obvious that commenter Abby is doing some negative stereotyping herself here. Note that it is the Big city girl Danielle who makes the racist comment, not small town Lindsey. Interesting that she mixed them up, was it to comport with her own likely perceptions of small town people? Perhaps the author threw that in there as a red herring? I'm not offended or anything but would like to say I am from a small town and went to college in a major city with lots of diversity. And I heard a lot of cosmopolitan city types say racist things to match anything I heard back in my small homogenous town. - Like - 1 person likes this.
Drew R. Culp said on Sep 3, 2014
I think that these are very dynamic questions with any number of answers spread across a scale from absolutely wrong to absolutely right. Seeing as how they are all yes or no questions, it's the reasoning that lead you to the decision which makes them so dynamic. For example: Should Lindsey confront Danielle immediately? Well, I don't know. It depends on so many things. Was Danielle popular in High School while Lindsey wasn't? If Lindsey is desperate for friends then confronting Danielle, a potential candidate, is a very bad idea. "Who cares if she's wrong? I need more friends!" would be a perfectly justified reason to give the answer "No." What if Danielle considered Lindsey SUCH a good friend, Danielle decided to disclose that both her parents were murdered by members of a Chinese gang when Danielle was young? That would most certainly give Danielle a justified reason to have a grudge with the Chinese. It's not fair to think that ALL Chinese people are gang members or willing to commit murder, but the love for your parents and the hatred of a lost childhood can make a person think VERY irrationally. In this case, I would also say "No." Lindsey should just let it slide and talk to her later when they are in a more private and controlled environment. If it were me, and there were no extenuating circumstances, I would simply let it slide. If it happened again, I would begin attempting to start the occasional conversation about it here or there at a more appropriate time. No one wants to have that confrontation at a party or in a public place. All three questions are related, and by choosing one you can't really choose another, so in the end I would say there is a plethora of potential factors to answering a question like this that we simply don't have access to, and thus can't make an informed decision. We could just go with "stick yourself in her shoes at this exact moment in time with no other relevant details to be known", but that's simply not realistic. If you live with someone for three weeks, you're going to learn ALOT about them, and we simply don't know any of it, about either character really. - Like
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