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Participants at a rally at San Jose State were asked to raise their hands if they had experienced racism on campus.
Photo by Raphael Kluzniok

Outrage at San Jose State

November 22, 2013

Three white students at San Jose State University have been charged by authorities with battery and misdemeanor hate crimes in the tormenting of a black roommate that allegedly went on for months before anyone intervened.

The details of the alleged attacks stunned the campus, where black students rallied Thursday to protest what happened to one of their peers.

According to a spokesman for the Santa Clara District Attorney's office, the taunting of the black student became physical at times, with the white students placing a bicycle lock around the neck of the black student -- something they succeeded in doing once, but tried without success another time.

Regular harassment of the black student took other forms as well, according to the district attorney's report, which found that the white students called the black student "3/5," in a reference to the way the infamous Three-Fifths Compromise. When the black student objected, the white students called him "Fraction."

The white students also, according to the district attorney's office, put up photographs of Hitler, hung a Confederate flag and wrote racial epithets on the whiteboard in the suite they shared.

Authorities said that the black student's father visited him, saw some of the photos and writings in the suite, and alerted staff members at the university October 13. The attacks on the black student started in August, authorities said.

A spokeswoman for the university said that within 48 hours, two of those eventually charged had been removed from the living space. The third student was "thought to be a bystander until very recently," she said. All three of the students facing charges have now been suspended.

Asked how this could have been going on for months without anyone noticing, the spokeswoman said via email: "Should the housing staff have noticed before Oct 13? Perhaps, and this will be addressed."

The black student was 17 years old when the harassment is alleged to have started. Two of the white students charged are 18 and one is 19. If convicted they could face a year each in county jail. They have not issued a statement, nor is there a lawyer known to be handling their cases.

The Black Student Union organized Thursday's rally, and students took to social media to express anger with the hashtag #blackthursday. Some of the comments were along the lines of "I can't believe this happened." But others were not surprised. One tweet: "I hate how ppl keep acting like 'you know racism ain't dead, why are you so surprised' like hate crimes should be expected." Others offered encouragement to the victim: "To the black student that was tormented in this hate crime, we are here for you! You are not alone!"

The parents of the black student issued a statement to The San Jose Mercury News asking for privacy for their son. "As a family, we are deeply disturbed by the horrific behaviors that have taken place against our son. Our immediate focus is his protection. We have taken a stand on this matter. Our response prompted the community to be alerted of the appalling conduct of the students involved. We appreciate the outpouring of support from our family, community and the efforts put forth by the Black Student Union of San Jose State University," the statement said.

Mohammad Qayoumi, president at San Jose State, issued a statement deploring what had happened. In the statement, he apologized that one of the white students accused was not originally recognized as part of the attacks. "We regret he was not removed from the victim’s suite before today," Qayoumi said.

"Let me be clear: I am outraged and saddened by these allegations. They are utterly inconsistent with our long-cherished history of tolerance, respect for diversity and personal civility," said the statement. "We speak very directly to all freshmen about discrimination and harassment during orientation and at hall meetings. We will re-examine our diversity programs and safety measures within campus housing and throughout the university."

Incidents Elsewhere

Racial incidents are reported regularly on many campuses -- and certain times of year (such as Halloween with offensive costumes by some) always set off campus disputes. But this month has seen intense discussion of the experience of black students at several colleges.

  • On Thursday, Harvey Perlman, chancellor of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, sent an email message to everyone on campus condemning the use of a derogatory term for black people by a member of the student government and in campus chalkings, The Lincoln Journal Star reported. "The use of the N-word and insensitive racial impersonations are the recent incidents that demand our immediate attention," Perlman wrote. "Racial epithets and racial impersonations are not acceptable anywhere but especially in an institution devoted to education and progress. These acts are not funny. They are not symbolic. They are only cruel. They reflect either malevolence or ignorance."
  • Black students at the University of Michigan took to Twitter this week to express frustrations over how they are treated on campus. They posted comments with the hashtag #BBUM (Being Black at the University of Michigan). Black students at other Michigan colleges and universities responded with their own hashtags, such as #BBMSU, for Being Black at Michigan State University.
  • At the University of California at Los Angeles, a black student's video about the experience of being among the relatively few black male students on campus went viral.
  • At Whitman College, students rallied this month to protest comments on an online discussion board for students. After one student posted a comment before Halloween asking people not to wear offensive costumes, others responded in ways that angered minority students, with one comment along the lines of “Is it OK if i don’t like black people? I hope there are more people, I know I’m not the only one," The Union-Bulletin reported.

 

 

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