By Anna Phillips | June 17, 2020 at 10:37 PM EDT – Updated June 17 at 11:03 PM
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – Messages of love and hate, support and dissent are spreading across cities and towns and on social media in a way we largely haven’t seen since the civil rights movement, or ever before in the case of social media.
Experts in communication are particularly aware of how certain words and phrases are used, misused, interpreted and misinterpreted.
Rick Olsen is the Department Chair of UNCW’s department of communication studies.
He believes all lives matter all of the time, but that in this moment, “Black Lives Matter” is an appropriate response.
“One of the things that’s really important is to understand that rhetoric is about the moment; it’s about the situation; it’s about what’s going on right here right now, ” Olsen said. “So, to pronounce and affirm ‘black lives matter’ is to say in this moment that’s what we’re most about—for this moment in time because they’re the ones who are hurting. If you came up to me and said, “I’m really hurting right now, would you pray for me?” and I said, “Well I pray for everybody,” that’s a very uncaring response. So, all lives matter for sure; but for this moment in time, this location, this point in history, black lives matter.”
Olsen says members of his staff and other disciplines have reached out to Chancellor Sartarelli, but he has not spoken directly with him.
On Wednesday, the names of those who’ve died at the hands of police, including Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, were written in chalk along with various messages on the university’s campus.
Olsen says staff are spending hundreds of hours behind the scenes, preparing to make good on promises the school is making publicly in regards to improving inclusion, diversity and equality.
Olsen hopes to take politics out of the equation when classes resume this fall—to talk about these issues in meaningful ways that encourage critical thinking.
As for criminology professor Mike Adams, whose become known for what many consider offensive comments online, Olsen says the method of communication he uses is unethical.
“We don’t want to attack people. We want to refine and move forward through ideas and if I can show you in a very calm dialogue, how to think better about something, than I don’t need to attack. And dialogue has always been understood as the preferred alternative to war, whether that’s a war of words or a war of physical harm,” Olsen said.
“What I hope happens this fall is that we embrace the moment and don’t shy away from it,” Olsen said. “If we’re brave as students, as faculty, as campus leaders, as a chancellor…if we’re brave and we say, ‘This is hard.’ We might make mistakes; we might utter things that smack of white privilege; we might utter things that smack of naive nostalgia, of southern heritage, or lack of understanding of historical themes and challenges, but we’re going to create a safe space where we can make those mistakes and be gently mentored, corrected, through dialogue.”
Olsen issued a full statement addressing social concerns on behalf of the department of communication studies here.
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