UPDATE: Here’s an article from the Missourian on the topic. And the Legion of Black Collegians statement. The latter contains some great words advice from group president Anthony Martin towards the end: “Be upset, be disgusted, but keep your composure and react to this situation as the outstanding men and women that you are.”
Earlier today, University of Missouri Chancellor Brady Deaton emailed students about an alleged incident at the Black Culture Center. The incident has all the makings of a situation that could flare up into a full scale controversy, notwithstanding the announcement’s timing at the beginning of the weekend. If this initial bit of information is accurate in its suggestion of a racially-motivated act of vandalism, indeed that is despicable.
Surely nearly every student and local citizen supports the immediate investigation into the incident, and strongly condemns the conduct in question. After the identification and sanction of the individual or individuals who engaged in this act, what interests me is exactly how far university administrators and student activists will take this, officially and rhetorically.
Will people be expelled? Does a university ever suspend people? Perhaps they’ll be placed on disciplinary probation? Will they be kicked out of a fraternity or sorority? Of student groups? Will they be physically safe on campus?
I’m not attempting to determine what would be appropriate at the moment. However, disciplinary action should be administered according to existing student conduct code standards (if the person or persons involved are in fact students), and not be devised in a reactionary or ad hoc basis in response to the intense social and political reactions and demands sure to ensue on campus. That’s not to say don’t be sensitive to student input – but justice is not the same as mob justice, and should that pressure arise the administration must be prepared to resist. Nor should this incident be exploited in pursuit of anybody’s pet programming objectives on campus.
What’s the actual crime here? Vandalism? What happened is not yet public knowledge, so it’s hard to say. But that would seem to be the actual, statutorily-defined and legally prosecutable act (as I don’t think Missouri has hate crime legislation on the books. Although Columbia very well might have municipal ordinances to that effect, which I’ll look into). Anything beyond that will come through university action.
This incident brings to mind the case of Jenny Marinko, a former MU student who several years ago was ostracized from the community for a distasteful comment she made seeming to endorse social self-segregation at the university. In a column for the now defunct MU Student News, she reacted petulantly to alleged acts of vandalism by black sorority members against some predominantly white sororities and fraternities. To my knowledge the vandalism itself – with its obvious racial dynamics – was not discussed after the column’s appearance, while Marinko’s comments became cause for campus uproar.
Ironically, some who rushed to condemn Marinko seem to advocate related notions of group identity and non-assimilation under the guise of diversity and multiculturalism. Also left unspoken at that time was that there was and still is a good deal of racial self-segregation at MU, much of it with the tacit endorsement of the aforementioned parties.
I’ll continue to track developments of the BCC story, offer my thoughts and relate those of students on campus.
From: MU CHANCELLOR
Sent: Friday, February 26, 2010
To: MU CHANCELLOR
Subject: Message from the Chancellor
To the MU Community:
In today’s early morning hours, a disheartening and inexcusable act was committed on our campus when cotton balls were strewn at the front entrance to our Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center. Those guilty of this despicable action have not yet been identified, but MUPD became involved immediately and is conducting an investigation. This university is fully committed to tolerance and respect for every one of its members, and this kind of conduct will not be tolerated. I urge anyone who has information related to this crime to contact the MU Police Department immediately at 882-7201. I also ask you to join me in expressing your own individual concern and support to the members of our community who were the apparent targets. I have been informed that the Legion of Black Collegians is calling a Town Hall Meeting for Monday at 5 p.m., location to be determined.
MU celebrates the diversity of our community. This morning’s behavior offends us all.
Brady J. Deaton
This e-mail has been generated in accordance with the MU Mass E-Mail Policy: http://doit.missouri.edu/e-mail/mass/