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Have Race Relations on College Campuses Become More Volatile?

The fall of 2013 has been a memorable one for race relations on college campuses. This is not in the positive sense of the word. It seems that every time one picks up a newspaper or engages in web surfing, you are bound to see some article about a person who has been the victim of racial discrimination in one manner or another. 2013 is not a year that many students of color as well as students of all races and ethnicities who fight for tolerance, acceptance, diversity and inclusion will look back on with undiluted fondness.

It has been a very troubling year on several levels:

  • Black and other students of color were initially denied bids to University of Alabama Sororities due to pressure from alumni
  • Blackface and ghetto theme parties were commonplace at several prominent institutions including Dartmouth College and Northwestern University
  • At the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, the Chancellor, Harvey Perlman, publicly denounces the use of a racial slurs in campus chalkings and by a student government member
  • Black male students at UCLA take to YouTube to discuss the marginalization and isolation that they experience on campus given their shockingly low numbers. The video goes viral.
  • More than 150 Black University of Michigan Students take to twitter and other social media to discuss both the overt and subtle forms of mistreatment the encounter on campus

The list goes on and on. It reminds me of that old saying that the more things change, the more they remain the same. Anyone keeping abreast of such incidents has to continually remind themselves that they are living indeed living in 2013 not 1963. It has been something to behold.

The most recent and certainly most shocking account of racial intolerance was the verbal and physical harassment of a Black college freshman at San Jose State University by his White roommates. The student in question whose name has not been released given the fact that he was/is 17 at the time was/is a minor, was called humiliating and demeaning names, was referred to as “three fifths” referring to the provision in the Constitution that counted slaves as 60% of a human being and “fraction.” The abuse did not stop there. It got even more psychologically tormenting. It appears that the sad sacks (I am being polite, very polite) were just getting warmed up so-to-speak.

According to a November 22nd New York Times article written by Malia Wollan and Richard Perez-Pena, his sadistic roommates tried to fasten a bicycle lock around his neck and hid the key, (they succeeded at doing so one time). They physically wrestled him to the ground, attempted to lock him in a closet until he fought them off, hid his shoes and barricaded him in his room. Upon their investigation, police discovered that one of the student’s tormentors, Logan Beaschler of Bakersfield, California had displayed Nazi imagery on his walls including a picture of Adolf Hitler. When questioned by police, Beaschler supposedly commented that such images were meant as “satire and humor.”

By his twisted logic, I guess we should then conclude that chronically racially and physically harassing, demeaning, terrorizing and disrespecting a fellow roommate was just a few guys merely being “satirical” and “humorous” as well. Please, spare us! The other two culprits, Joseph Bomgardner and Colin Warren have been suspended. All three students have been charged with misdemeanor hate crime and battery. Another student who was involved in the harassment was a minor but will also face charges. Hopefully, these young bigoted, intolerant thugs will face justice.

The fact is that racial harassment on college campuses is hardly new. During the mid to late 1980s, there were hundreds of isolated as well as public displays of racial intolerance that occurred on hundreds of campuses across the nation. I was the victim of such an incident. In my case, the situation was handled quickly and decisively. What is even more troubling about this particular incident is that there must have been resident directors, housing staff or other students on the floor or suite who were aware of the fact that one of their fellow students was being violently mistreated and seemed to either refuse to intervene or turned a blind eye to the situation.

Some of the students interviewed swore on their lives that they were unaware of what was happening. In all fairness, this may very well have been the case. It is slightly possible that they were indeed clueless to the drama that happening around them. If this is in fact, true, then they cannot be faulted and should give the benefit of the doubt.

Although it is somewhat ironic that this supposedly more racially progressive, ethnically diverse millennial generation seems to have some members of it group who are highly dismissive, socially regressive and in some cases, violently resistant when it comes to racial inclusion and acceptance. So much for post-racialism.

Crises aside, there is no doubt that the San Jose State incident, along with other recent ones have made it  clear that certain college campuses are becoming potential “danger zones” for students of color where they are under increasing siege physically, verbally and psychologically. It is a situation that must be combated. Such a hostile climate is unacceptable and has no place in our 21st century society.

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