Monday, November 19, 2007

Campus show trials 

In today's StarTribune, Katherine Kersten describes a case of campus "making an example" of a student who made a flip joke. A student at the MCTC campus newspaper jokes about missed deadlines by creating a noose out of his sweatshirt drawstring, hangs it with a note of mock warning, and then removes it before leaving the newspaper's office. Within days, he is fired.
At a meeting set up by college authorities, he apologized profusely to staffers. He called the noose joke "unprofessional" but explained that it was a misunderstanding.

"Too late," one student responded, said Keith. "The staffer told me, 'An example needs to be made. We need to raise awareness of issues like this on campus.'

"They didn't want an apology," Keith added. "They wanted me out of there so they could launch the aftermath."
Not the student's best moment; it's a tasteless joke. But one could hardly have said he was singly out black student reporters for the noose. That did not matter.
"We are angry," Lisa Dean, president of Association of Black Collegiates, a student group, told the Star Tribune for an article about the incident. "If we do not nip it in the bud, it will spread and a lot of students may not want to attend this college because of racism."

At the P.C. circus' surreal climax, Keith unknowingly walked into a protest rally where a crowd vented outrage at his bigotr. Meanwhile, administrators scrambled to use the incident as a "chance to educate our students."

Educate about what? You guessed it: "We want to educate around cultural understanding," Laura Fedock, interim associate vice president for academic and student affairs, told the Star Tribune. "We need to teach each other when something is offensive."
Kersten wonders if students learn anything else. But she then gets to the heart of the matter:
The thinly veiled secret is that an incident like this is a godsend to campus political posturers and must be milked for all it's worth.

Today, a favorite college pastime is fanning the flames of grievance. Victimhood is a tremendous source of moral power, and being outraged and oppressed is a sure bet to get your picture in the paper -- displaying a look of grave concern for all humanity.
On the St. Cloud State campus last week, some muttonhead scratched swastikas in our student union building. One was in the muticultural office, found last Tuesday. It's unlikely we'll ever figure out who did it. But this doesn't prevent one administrator of saying we will "come together as a community and develop a plan."

For what? If the perpetrator(s) are not on this campus, what good does it do? Because it gives the political posturers not only a photo op but power, power to impose a particular view of race. One member of the campus sent around a statement on the use of swastikas which concluded with this sentence:
While what might be thoughtless provocation should not be criminalized to an extent beyond room for education and socialization, hate crimes must be identified as such and condemned and persecuted.
The contradiction within that very sentence -- don't criminalize, but persecute -- is a shining example of the problem with the definition of hate crimes. (So too an exhortation at the bottom of his flyer advertising a public forum which says "Zero tolerance for undemocratic statements." In bold and underlined, just in case you might miss that.) At both these schools, statements of "zero tolerance" make it more difficult to have these conversations in the open.

Not that the posturers really care.

Labels: ,