“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
That is the mentality of most large bureaucratic institutions, and San Jose State University is no different. Four freshman students at SJSU are accused of hate-crimes. For a university that prides itself on being racially and ethnically diverse, the events that reportedly transpired should be an eye-opener to the administration.
Unfortunately, the independent investigator’s report that came out earlier this week masks the real problems. It protects university administration rather than holding people accountable and shedding new light on the culture that led to such incidents.
I know firsthand what a positive experience SJSU can provide. Most of us alumni are deeply grateful to the state of California for providing to get an education at an affordable cost. Yet in any institution, not everything can be sunshine and rainbows.
This campus is experiencing a crisis of identity and the alleged crimes, which became national news, are an embarrassment for those of us who have prided ourselves the school’s diversity and contributions to civil rights.
How can an institution that prides itself on “powering Silicon Valley” allow such events to occur? The institution failed to recognize that a problem existed. The victim never felt empowered by the institution to report such outrageous behavior. Even worse, not a single other student came forward to report the incidents. Remember, this is a college dorm where four young men thought the “prank” was funny. They most likely would not have kept their exploits to themselves.
The report’s findings that the university did “everything it could, under the circumstances as presented here” defy logic. The simple fact that a Confederate Flag was displayed in a room occupied by an African-American student and the resident assistant did not know him is at the very least a form of negligence.
On the upside, the university has brought former judge LaDoris Cordell to chair a task force and make recommendations on the report. The group’s fist set of findings are a step in the right direction.
An easy suggestion would be that resident assistants actually meet and know the people in the dorm rooms they supervise. Second, students should be required to take a civil rights course during their first year of study. A third idea: Inform students at orientation of their right to be free from bullying, hazing and other forms of human degradation.
It is important for students to understand that silence in the face of bullying behavior is not a virtue. As Dante wrote, and JFK often quoted, “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of moral crisis preserve their neutrality.”
To not speak out in defense of another human being who is in harm’s way is a form of cowardice. Students, faculty and administrators must all be held to a higher standard. No Spartan— past, present or future—should ever again have to apologize for the cowardice of the university.
The administration’s attitude as of late has created an environment where the burden to address such issues is left to the students. Budget have shrunk and classes have been cut, but these recent events have exposed the inadequacy of the current administration.
Tragedy can either divide us or bring us closer. In the case of students, it seems they are becoming more connected. But in regards to the administration, President Mohammad Qayoumi’s future doesn’t look so bright.
Rich Robinson is an attorney and political consultant in Silicon Valley.