Charles Huckabee, Chronicle of Higher Education, November 26, 2013
San Jose State University’s president, Mohammad H. Qayoumi, took personal responsibility on Monday for the campus’s not having acted sooner to stop the alleged abuse of a black student by his white roommates, the San Jose Mercury News reported.
Hours after the president e-mailed his statement to the campus, frustrated students rushed the stage at a news conference where university administrators and local NAACP leaders had spoken. Some of the students wore tape over their mouths to symbolize their protest that the university had not heeded their earlier requests for a meeting to discuss race relations on the campus.
“Last semester when we were protesting and requesting to meet with you, we were trying our hardest to let you know that something was terribly wrong with the experience that African-American students are having at San Jose State,” Gary Daniels, a student and chairman of the Black Unity Group, told Mr. Qayoumi, according to the Mercury News.“But you did not want to hear us.”
Four students are now facing misdemeanor hate-crime and battery charges in the harassment of a black roommate who shared their dormitory suite. The four white students have been suspended pending the resolution of criminal and university disciplinary proceedings against them. They are accused of intimidating their black roommate by hanging a Confederate flag in the suite, verbally abusing him, barricading him in his room, and putting a bicycle lock around his neck. The accused say their actions were meant as jokes and were not hate crimes.
In his statement on Monday, Mr. Qayoumi conceded that campus officials should have acted sooner. “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,” the president said. “I failed him.”
“How such abuse could have gone unchecked or undetected for weeks is being methodically untangled, as it must,” he wrote. He added that the campus would appoint a task force, led by an outside expert, to look into what had happened, examine university policies and practices, and propose reforms.