Amid Rumors, UMass Won’t Censor Harambe Jokes

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

Despite rumors to the contrary, officials with University of Massachusetts Amherst stated that the school does not plan to put a stop to jokes and memes being made on campus about Harambe, the gorilla who was killed at the Cincinnati Zoo after a 3-year-old boy fell into the enclosure.

"As an institution that values free speech and the exchange of ideas, UMass Amherst has not taken any steps to ban jokes or references about Harambe the gorilla," school administrators said Tuesday in a statement.

The statement was released after an e-mail was sent to 60 students living in a dormitory on campus by two resident assistants.

The RAs asked students to stop making jokes about the gorilla, which they said could be viewed as "micro-aggressions," as the African Heritage Student Community, one of the Defined Residential Communities on campus, is called "Harambee." Specifically, the letter requested that jokes no longer be written on whiteboards on the dormitory floor, writes Steve Annear for The Boston Globe.

The school offers students the ability to apply to live in these communities. The university's website notes that Harambee is meant to offer support to students of African descent, who identify with the African diaspora, or are seeking the opportunity to learn more about African culture.

The message has since been shared on social media and discussed on news outlets both locally and nationally.

"[Harambee] has a very positive connotation," the resident assistants wrote. "But current social media has been misrepresenting it. The [Harambee] floor has been in existence for many years, so any negative remarks regarding ‘Harambe' will be seen as a direct attack to our campus's African-American community."

In recent months, Harambe the gorilla has become a mascot for the movement and slogan "dicks out for Harambe," suggesting that males expose themselves as a sign of support for the animal. However, the resident assistants noted that doing so carries with it the risk of being reported as a Title IX incident, writes Harry Cheadle for Vice.

It is unclear whether men on the campus are actually following through with the actions or just uttering the phrase, writes Evan Lips for The New Boston Post.

The e-mail went on to say that the act of exposing oneself is a sexual assault incident. It added that as such, it is reported not only to community standards, but also to the dean of students.

The statement was made by officials on the topic after all the media attention. They added that while the two assistants meant well ensuring the dormitory created a positive atmosphere for all students, there is no official ban on Harambe jokes at the school.

In a statement, school officials called the e-mail a "cautionary attempt" to suggest to new students living on the floor that making these types of jokes could be considered by some as offensive. The officials added that the RA's were simply following their responsibility to ensure that students at the school can live in an inclusive environment.

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