Students can now get paid to snitch on their peers at the University of Sheffield. The students will earn £9.34/hour to be “race equality champions,” and their training for the work will include teaching them how to “lead healthy conversations” on racism, microaggressions, and how to deal with those peers who commit infractions. Hours range from two to nine hours per week, like any part-time work-study job. But Sheffield University’s foray into “snitch culture” sounds alarm bells.
Following a report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission that cautioned about the “common occurrence” of racism for some students on campus, the University decided to combat the problem by weaponizing other students. Twenty, lucky kids will get this job, and it’s probable that plenty more would have done it for free, as have their authoritarian forebears.
This new job, such as it is, is rightfully being hailed as completely authoritarian and crazy. Anyone who has studied 20th-century history knows that the worst dictators and totalitarians of that era counted on citizens to report on one another, under threat of punishment if they did not.
Citizens in the Soviet Union, Germany, China, Spain, and other nations with brutal, paranoid leaders impressed upon their citizens how important it was that they rat out their friends, family, and co-workers.
Now that trend has some to the ultimate allied nation, the U.K. The students who take these jobs will undoubtedly think they are doing the right thing in carrying out their duties. But in trying to overcome racism, they are dividing them further.
Part of the job description is for students to call out their peers for microaggressions.
If a fellow student says to another “Stop making everything a race issue,” that’s considered a microaggression and is a reason for reporting under this new plan. If a student says “Why are you searching for things to be offended about?” That’s considered “not okay,” and that peer must be punished. The question “Where are you really from?” is apparently out of bounds, and other geographical infractions like “I don’t want to hear about your holiday to South Africa. It’s nowhere near where I’m from” is a reason to call out a kid for being racist.
Students complained about the microaggression of “Being compared to black celebrities that I look nothing like,” which would be pretty annoying for the kid who got that wrong, but is it a reason to be reported?
The University of Sheffield claims that they are just “opening up a conversation” by paying students “to help their peers understand racism and its impact.” In 2018, the University suffered some racially motivated incidents, with racial slurs found written on a whiteboard, and slurs yelled at games.
Of course, there’s no place for racism on campuses, but the way to root it out is through education and conversation, not monetized McCarthyism. Call-out culture, snitch culture, and the reframing of the conversation around how to control our thoughts does not alleviate racism; it buries it where it can fester.
Fighting racism is a positive project, but it’s not done through dividing us, through pitting peers against each other, but through a culture of egalitarianism and equality. Knowing that we are different is not as important as recognizing all the ways in which we are the same.