A report issued earlier this week cleared San Jose State University of any wrongdoing in the way it reacted to reports of an alleged hate crime against an African American student on campus last semester. But a closer look at the evidence shows that there were red flags the school failed to notice, according to some members of a task force assigned to review the report.
A living agreement signed on Sept. 23 by eight freshmen dorm-mates, including the 17-year-old alleged victim of racial harassment, listed several household rules for the students to follow. The contract says residents should clean up after themselves, not eat each other’s food and keep drugs and alcohol out of the dorm. The last demand on the list says, “No bike lock of shame.”
LaDoris Cordell, a retired judge and San Jose’s Independent Police Auditor, chaired the 18-member task force that assembled Thursday night in front of a before a standing-room-only crowd. She said that the bike lock demand, in particular, should have alerted the residential advisor to misbehavior.
“I think that there was a failure in the system,” agreed Delorme McKee-Stovall, manager of the Santa Clara County Office of Human Relations and a fellow task force member. “I’m concerned that the report gave the impression that the victim made no effort to tell someone what was going on when, clearly, that’s not the case.”
In November, the District Attorney’s office arrested four SJSU students on suspicion of misdemeanor hate crime and battery. Police and court records accuse freshmen Logan Beaschler, Colin Warren, Joseph Bomgardner and an unnamed minor of twice restraining the victim with a bike lock around his neck. They also allege that they locked their dormmate in a closet, called him “Three-Fifths” and “Fraction,” a reference to U.S. law that once deemed African Americans a fraction of a person, and hung up the confederate flag and Nazi symbols around the dorm.
The alleged abuse began in August, at the outset of the semester, and continued until mid-October, when the victim’s parents saw a racial slur on a common area whiteboard. The parents soon learned the rest of the story and reported to campus police. The case was referred to the DA, but school administrators didn’t tell univeristy President Mohhamad Qayoumi about the case for another five weeks, a couple days before the suspects’ arrests in late November.
On Thursday night, the task force discussed the details of the case spelled out in the report. Members noted that the residential advisor’s failure to pick up on early signs of abuse points to inadequate training. Residential advisors are students who receive a stipend to keep an eye on living conditions on campus. They’re supposed to report problems up through the chain of command.
The Confederate flag hung up by one of the suspects should have tipped them off to a bigger problem, said Rick Callender, vice president of the California/Hawaii State NAACP chapter.
“We’re not talking about an obscure symbol here,” he said. “We’re talking about a well-known, widely publicized symbol of hatred here that was used by the Klan for intimidation.”
SJSU student Gary Daniels, who lived in the dorm block with the suspects and victim, said residential advisers aren’t properly trained to deal with racism.
“We don’t know if the RAs are being trained properly—period—or if they aren’t being trained properly on African American issues,” said Daniels, also a member of the task force. “I think that needs to be looked at.”
He said the bigger problem is the campus climate, which isn’t welcoming to black and Latino students. Cordell agreed to make campus climate the focus of the next task force meeting. Part of the problem, she said, is that students didn’t speak up about the reported problem.
“Clearly, these students—to a person—said nothing,” Cordell said. “And that doesn’t make them bad people. It’s just—what is the thinking? What does the university want students to do about this stuff?”
Willie Hagen, President of CSU Domingo Hills, said the university could do more to dispel no-snitch attitudes, and the school could do more to educate students about how to speak up when they see a problem. Right now, the focus is more on who’s bringing drugs and alcohol into the dorms than racism, added Daniels. Nowhere in the training materials for residential advisers is there any mention of how to deal with racism. After the victim’s parents went to police, the suspects—though later suspended—were simply moved to another dorm.
“If a student gets caught with alcohol and marijuana, he gets kicked out of housing,” Daniels said. “I see students getting arrested … all the time. In housing, sometimes, strange people come into the dorms. They basically put up wanted posters … that say, ‘beware of strange person lurking.’ … You get warnings about particular criminals, but if there’s neo-Nazis or Ku Klux Klan members in the dorms, you don’t get warned. There’s a distinct lack of concern for African Americans and other minorities.”
After a series of meetings and at least one public hearing, the task force will compile a report of its own by April with recommendations on how to improve university policies and prevent hate crimes. Cordell said those recommendations could set a precedent for schools across the state.
The university’s website has more information about the task force.