Residents of historically Black Bowie State University’s all-male residence halls are accustomed to watching the news on their communal flat screen television every night between 5:00 and 8:00 pm. They often discuss each other’s entrepreneurial plans. What they aren’t used to is hearing each other use the “n-word.”
“Now if someone says ‘nigga’ everyone will stop and look,” says William “Butch” Tweedle, resident director of Kennard Hall.
Disturbed by how often he heard residents in the 84-bed dormitory using the n-word to greet and refer to each other, Tweedle, three years ago, called a hall meeting.
That meeting led to what is now the “N-Free Zone.” When students move into Kennard or Holmes Hall, the 127-bed all-male freshman dormitory, they become part of a community where casual use of the n-word isn’t cool.
“I never used the word, and when I came to the residence hall I would see a lot of guys referring to each other as ‘niggas’,” Tweedle says.
The frequency with which some popular recording artists use the slur has led to the n-word rolling very easily off of the tongues of many young Black males.
“I started talking to them about its history,” Tweedle says. “So much more is behind the n-word. When Black men were lynched, that was probably the last word that they heard.”
After some initial resistance, “everybody bought into it, from the coolest guy to the quietest guy,” Tweedle says. “I owe it to them because they could have said, ‘Look, we don’t want to do it.’”
The “N-Free Zone” and a ban on profanity in general are part of a community code at Kennard and Holmes.
“We are trying to create community standards in the resident halls to improve how people respect each other,” says Artie Travis, BSU’s vice president for student affairs.
After a first violation, Tweedle will give a student a form about the code that has a space for him to get 15 residents to sign. Getting the signatures lets the offender’s peers know he violated their standards and puts everyone on notice about how serious Kennard is about the Zone, Tweedle says.
After a second violation, a resident may be charged a $25-dollar fine or face restriction of visiting privileges. A third violation may result in a recommendation that he move out of the residence hall.
Tweedle says offenses rarely get past the first violation, and residents will work with a student who is making the effort to stop using the “n-word.”
“If you continue to fine people, they are only going to be more resistant,” Tweedle says. He and his counterpart at Holmes may ask offenders to research and write a report on the n-word or language that they used.
“By no means is this an easy process, you are not going to get everybody to abide by it,” Tweedle says.
Debroy Fung, a junior majoring in business administration and a Kennard resident, has bought into the program.
“I’m from Baltimore and that was one of the words I used constantly,” Fung says. “I was like, ‘I’m 18, why can’t I say what I want to say?’
“For every point that somebody gave about freedom of speech, Butch backed it up and it really made me think,” he says.
Derrick Washington, a senior majoring in sociology and criminal justice and a Washington, D.C. native, initially had a similar challenge changing his vocabulary.
“It wasn’t an easy adjustment, but those $25 dollar fines had an effect on my pockets,” he says. Eventually he bought into the code. “When I made the decision to come to Bowie State, I ran into a couple of mentors who told me that I needed to better myself as a man.”
With the option of using the n-word gone, what now do Bowie State men use to greet each other?
“I think everyone has found an alternate word to use,” Washington said.
“I say brother,” Fung said.
–Cassie M. Chew
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com