"Where are you from?"
"Are you Mexican?"
"Wow, you speak English so well."
Vanessa Ruiz, a fourth-year public relations student, grew up being called "taco" by her peers. At the time, she said, she was afraid to speak up and say that it wasn't OK.
“I understand that people can be curious, but it’s the way that people ask some things that make it come off as offensive,” she said.
Ruiz and four other students are working together on a campaign to fight racial microaggressions at USC. With the slogan "Think Twice," the JOUR 531 class project is designed to encourage students to share personal stories. On social media and a campaign website, the team has places for USC students and administrators to pledge to fight against microaggressions on campus.
"When we all came here, that’s when we noticed that people kind of make these comments that we’d never really heard anywhere else,” said Amanda Budd, a fourth-year public relations student.
All five of the students in the group grew up outside of South Carolina. After going to a Jewish private school in Atlanta, Budd was surprised when students at USC would crack Jew jokes at her. A lot of people had never met someone who was Jewish.
Before starting the campaign, the group surveyed about 500 students on how offensive they felt certain statements were and on their awareness of the term microaggressions. Most students felt that the statements were offensive, Budd said, but only half knew what the term microaggression meant.
“There’s something lost there like, people know this is bad but they don’t know like it’s actually categorized as something,” Budd said.
Third-year journalism student T. Michael Boddie, a Columbia Hall resident mentor and former reporter for The Daily Gamecock, blogged about the Think Twice campaign because the awareness campaign hit home.
“I personally had never heard the word ‘microaggression’ until coming to college," he said. The concept was like a revelation.
"That’s what that is and that’s what’s been happening to me my whole life," he said.
Boddie went to a Black Lives Matter protest at the Statehouse during a Confederate flag rally with a friend. They crossed over to both sides. Then someone at the flag rally asked his friend, a white woman, if anyone had tried to molest her at the BLM protest.
"So these microaggressions, the way they exist and the way they persist, is by being microaggressions," Boddie said. "By being tiny. Too small for those in power to care. And as they build up, they become a basis for extremist ideas."
Those sort of ideas are the ones the Think Twice campaign is targeted at preventing by getting students and other campus figures to pledge.
"Our hope is to get people to pledge to #ThinkTwice before they speak, act or post," Budd said.
President Harris Pastides made the pledge in a Facebook post that got over 1,000 likes. With Pledge Day on Nov. 29, the team has an unofficial goal to collect at least 100 pledges. Simply getting numbers isn't the true goal, though, Budd said.
“We’re really just pushing for people to feel comfortable sharing their stories," she said, "because it’s not something to be embarrassed about.”
Ruiz said that she just wants to help students not feel powerless like she did in high school.
“If we could help at least one person feel like their voice matters, that would mean the world to me," she said.