Editorial: Was the soccer player’s post ignorance or malice?

Natalia Martinez's private Instagram picture was screenshotted and distributed by a friend.

Natalia Martinez’s name made headlines throughout the state for her use of the N-word on a Finsta, or fake Instagram, post. Barely on the internet for an hour, the screenshotted post sparked anger from alumni, faculty and students of not just Georgia State, but institutions across Georgia. The anger was so intense, that even though Martinez did not violate a Code of Conduct violation to lead to her expulsion, she withdrew from courses after an overwhelming response from a student-led petition to expel her. The student body was torn in half between “expelling her is too much” and “let her go home!” But what’s the right answer?

In an age where racial tensions are high, and the better of us are working to bridge the gaps in modern society, the backlash Martinez received should come as no surprise. Public figures from all over the world face outrage in a media space with its ears pricked for bigotry. People have begun to realize even comments made in private can be indicative of how individuals use their institutional reach in the real world. Not only that, but seeing bigoted beliefs go unchallenged can embolden racist violence and strengthen racist organizing.

But the question will always remain — was it ignorance or malice? And should we punish Martinez just the same for both? Some of us are fortunate enough to be able to understand and respect our surroundings, and even better, ask questions in order to understand those different than us. Martinez clearly missed that memo. Perhaps the freshman soccer player was raised in a less diverse background, or maybe she was ignorant to the offensive notions of the word. Can we blame her for being ignorant? Surely.

If this was a mistake that anyone could fall guilty of, none of us would look down on it. If this was a slip-up that could happen to all of us, no one would be talking about it. But there’s a fine line, a point where we should know better, and perhaps it’s a result of proper education. And, as some students who spoke out last week excellently pointed out, maybe it’s the university’s responsibility to make sure students are receiving that education. Yes, Georgia State is one of the most diverse universities across the nation and the perfect environment for learning how to interact with other cultures, but as we all experienced, clearly that’s not enough for everyone.

And surprisingly, one of the most important lessons learned (besides, you know, ‘be a good person’) comes as a reminder of those freshman year lectures and seminars on how to use LinkedIn. You know, where that IT employee would remind us all to ‘watch out what we put on social media’ because the internet is all eyes and ears (and of course give us the infamous ‘once it’s there, it’s there forever’ speech)? Here’s your first-hand, real-life example.

Let’s all make this a lesson learned. If you’ve got nothing to say, better not say anything at all. And definitely don’t put it on social media.