At San Jose State, Harassment of a Black Student Gets National Attention

A 17-year-old African-American student was hazed by white roommates and many on campus and beyond are calling for stronger action.

Posted: 11/25/2013 03:19 PM EST
At San Jose, Harassment of a Black Student Gets National Attention

The president of San Jose State University said Monday that the school will implement a number of initiatives in the aftermath of three white students facing misdemeanor hate crime and battery charges for harassing a 17-year-old African-American roommate in a school dormitory.

NAACP officials and other organizations are calling for stiffer charges against the white students, saying that the behavior amounted to hate-filled hazing over a period of about two months.

The white students are accused of placing a Confederate flag on the door of the room along with the N-word scrawled along the wall. At one point, the African-American student was chained with a bicycle lock. The white students admitted to participating in the incidents, but said they were intended only as pranks.

The suspects reportedly referred to their African-American roommate as “three-fifths” and “fraction,” a reference to the 19th-century constitutional provision that counted slaves as three-fifths of a person.

“By failing to recognize the meaning of a Confederate flag, intervene earlier to stop the abuse, or impose sanctions as soon as the gravity of the behavior became clear, we failed him. I failed him,” said Mohammad Qayoumi, the university’s president, in a statement.

“How such abuse could have gone unchecked or undetected for weeks is being methodically untangled, as it must,” Qayoumi said. “An independent expert will soon be named to lead a task force that will examine the facts, our policies and practices, and propose reforms."

He added that additional training for resident assistants in the dormitory will be planned and that the school will establish an external task force to investigate the matter. Qayoumi also said he would participate in meetings with leaders of the local NAACP, who have been dissatisfied with the response.

Students at the university held a demonstration Monday afternoon to show their support for the student, whose name has not been disclosed.

“This incident has been deeply disheartening,” said Zhane Gay, a sophomore majoring in health science, political science and African-American studies, in an interview with BET.com. She is also an officer with the school’s Black Student Union.

“The only good thing about this is that it wasn’t swept under the rug the way things often happen,” she said.

Ernest Traylor, another student who participated in the demonstration Monday, said that many Black students, and others, felt compelled to come to the event to show solidarity with the young man.

“We wanted our fellow students to see that he does have a support system and that he’s not alone,” said Traylor, a senior majoring in history and African-American studies, speaking with BET.com.

“But at the same time, our main question is how this occurred and got past the housing officials and the university without them knowing about it sooner. It’s very troubling.”

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(Photo: Karl Mondon/AP Photo/San Jose Mercury News)

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