Student Attack at Washington State Raises Concerns About Race Problems
Police are still trying to determine why Washington State University freshman Atuanya Priester was beaten up last month. Some witnesses told investigators that Priester, from Seattle, was jumped by 10 men; others depict a confrontation between Priester and a member of a rival fraternity.
Minority groups have raised concerns that the assault was racially motivated. Priester, 18, is Black. His alleged assailants are White.
Police suspect the underlying cause was alcohol, not race.
In the first month of school, reports of alcohol-related violence have jumped more than 100 percent from the same period last year in the two most populated student residential areas — Campus Commons North and College Hill, where the Priester incident occurred.
Police have received 45 reports of violence, including 14 for assaults, 17 for fights and disputes and another 14 for belligerent behavior. Police estimate 95 percent of this year’s reports were alcohol-related.
There were 19 such calls over the same period last year.
“It’s dismaying,” says Pullman Police officer Carew Halleck.
Halleck, who walks the College Hill beat four nights a week, has experienced the violence himself.
On the night Priester was assaulted, Halleck suffered a concussion when an attempt to question an under-age drinker turned into a scuffle.
Police and school officials say the trouble often involves visitors, non-WSU students who show up on College Hill with backpacks filled with booze looking for a party. Students call them “randoms.”
School officials have taken to walking the College Hill streets this year to encourage students to behave responsibly.
“It’s a whole different ballgame than we’ve had in the past,” says George Bettas, WSU associate dean of students. “These students want to cooperate.”
Priester, son of jazz musician Julian Priester, had recently pledged the Alpha Kappa Lambda fraternity and was celebrating his 18th birthday the night of the assault.
Priester declined to discuss the incident in any detail.
But Aaron Keat, a former high school classmate who was visiting him, says the two had spent most of the evening in the AKL house. At some point, Priester and Keat became separated. When Keat next saw his friend on the bustling street outside the house, he was in a confrontation with a group of men.
“The next thing I know he was covered under a sea of guys, at least 10 of them,” Keat says.
Police initially thought the melee was the result of a long-running feud between the AKLs and their neighbor, Pi Kappa Alpha. But fraternity and school officials say the incident was the act of individuals.
University officials insist the school is safe. Pullman has not had a homicide in four years.
The Priester case, however, has raised another issue with campus minority groups.
A few days after the incident, a group called Black Men Making a Difference demonstrated in front of Priester’s fraternity.
The demonstrations prompted a forum last week between students and university officials, including new president V. Lane Rawlins, to discuss issues of campus safety and cultural diversity.
“I think these undercurrents of protests are less because of the possibility of racism in the attack than in the quick denials that racism could have been any part of this,” says Victor Villanueva, chairman of the English Department.
“OK, I’ll accept that race wasn’t the first thing on anybody’s mind, but of all the fraternity brothers to find to beat, why the Black one?” Villanueva wonders.
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com