A joke ended a college presidency

You are firedA joke ended a college presidency. No joke. It’s real. Ohio State’s Gorden Gee is retiring after a recording obtained by the AP quotes him as saying, “The fathers are holy on Sunday, and they’re holy hell the rest of the week. You just can’t trust those damn Catholics on a Thursday or a Friday.”

Gee said he didn’t mean to offend anyone and his remarks were a misguided attempt at humor. He apologized in a statement, a campus-wide email, and on Twitter. On Sunday he apologized to the Big Ten for his “hurtful remarks” about some university athletic programs.

The moral of the story here: not guarding your words and actions can cost you your job.

At TDS Telecom we teach a course called Civil Treatment that communicates our organization’s workplace expectations for employees by teaching them skills that foster professionalism and diversity at all levels. Our employees also learn how to speak up about workplace issues to ensure they are addressed quickly.

As my background focuses on training and behaviors, I argue that people need to be held accountable to the basics they learn in a class such as Civil Treatment. If the content is important enough to teach, it should be important enough to be applied.

Real-world situations really can change behavior. If you know how it feels to be the “butt” of a “joke” then you can share these experiences with co-workers, friends, family, etc. While it’s nice to work at TDS, a place where I never have to worry about being discriminated against, offended, or sexually harassed…it’s not always like that in the “real world.”

The phrase that has really been getting to me lately is the prolific use of the phrase, “That’s so gay.” For instance, I was talking about a new song I really liked with an acquaintance. My acquaintance responded to my comment by saying, “That song is so gay.” We’ve all heard people use the term flippantly, as if gay was synonymous with bad, stupid, or uncool.

Offending words are used more often than you might think. If you go to the thinkb4youspeak website you’ll see a current, daily count of the number of times people have used a variety of offensive words on Twitter. On the day I’m writing this blog (and as of 11:30 a.m. CST), “So Gay” has been used 5,100 times.

ThinkB4YouSpeak is a campaign that aims to raise awareness about the prevalence and consequences of anti-LGBT bias and behavior—including homophobic language—in America’s schools. But, there are similar campaigns about use of the word “retard” (visit therword.org) and some about hate speech in general. No matter what the specific campaign is about, the bottom line is that words used thoughtlessly can, and do, hurt.

If we focus on guarding our words and thinking before we speak (such as in this Wanda Sykes video) we can help put an to end to hurtful remarks that can be, ultimately, career ending. Chancellor Gee would be wise to adopt this thinking—even as he enters retirement.

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