Deja UVA: Racist Incidents at the University of Virginia
September 28, 2005

Recently there has been a spate of "racist incidents" at the University of Virginia. I have reason to suspect that some or all of those incidents were either staged or did not happen at all. Before explaining my suspicions, I'll give a short outline of the incidents and various responses.

According to one report:

Just a few weeks into the school year, U-Va. has had at least nine racist incidents -- slurs shouted from cars, ugly words written on message boards, a racist threat scrawled on a bathroom wall. And students, parents and alumni are demanding change.

(Racist Incidents Unnerve U-Va, Susan Kinzie, Staff Writer, Washington Post, September 17, 2005; Page B01).

Another report gives more details:
The incidents at U.Va. began the first week of school. Phil Jackson, a black student from Pennsylvania, arrived at his room on the Lawn to find a racial epithet written on a dry-erase board by his door.

In another case, four black female students found a racially offensive message posted on their apartment door. A black student found a note with racial slurs left on his car.

In four other incidents, racial slurs were yelled at black students from passing vehicles driving on or near campus. All the incidents have been reported to the U.Va. Police Department.

(U.Va. reaction to racism is 'mixed', Carlos Santos, staff writer, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Sep. 18, 2005)

The incidents, or perhaps all of the publicity about the incidents, seem to have created a climate of fear on the UVA campus. From the Washington Post article:

M. Rick Turner, dean of African American affairs, said the climate is the worst he has seen in his 18 years with the university. "I call it racial terrorism -- it's gone beyond racial incidents.

"We have some African American young ladies who are . . . afraid of going to class or going anywhere at their university, and somebody's going to ride by, or a group of white men will call them" a racial slur.

On September 16, university president John T. Casteen III began a speech addressing the incidents with these words:
We've gathered this afternoon to express our common opposition, our sense of moral indignation in reaction to a series of incidents in which persons who want to intimidate students and other members of this community have used the language of racial abuse and racial intolerance in ways intended to drive apart this community.

(President Casteen's Speech on Diversity-September 16, 2005. click here for mp3.)

The solemn cadences continue for a minute or two, then Casteen gives instructions on how to report a crime: ". . . call 911 . . . leave the evidence in place . . . work to remember all the details you can . . ." He further emphasizes the importance of proper crime-reporting procedures at the end of a statement issued a few days later:
Wallet cards will be issued shortly so that every student will know to report events immediately when they occur and also know how to make a report: dial 911 and remember details as accurately as possible. Even two or three numbers from a license plate, combined with the color of a vehicle, can help the police do their work.

(President Casteen's Statement on Recent Racial Incidents-September 20, 2005)

Some of the students attending Casteen's Sep. 16 speech wore black ribbons to express their solidarity with the victims of the recent incidents. Casteen spoke of a wider "black ribbon" campaign:

. . . with the homecoming football game coming up next Saturday there is chance for individual students standing near the gates talking one-on-one to alumni, to neighbors, to others who come to the games to present the ribbons, to say why we wear the ribbons and ask them to do the same thing. You may find people who refuse. You may find people who don't get it. But we'll provide the basic explanation in the form of appropriate signs and appropriate language. I will be endorsing it. Others will be endorsing it. The point basically is to say in a quiet, dignified way - a way worthy of Dr. King - that we are together, that we believe in one another and that we believe in each person's right to be here, to succeed here, to belong here. That's the purpose.
The University had purchased 60,000 such ribbons in preparation for the big day. (See Ribbons of unity, lead editorial in The Cavalier Daily, Sep. 23, 2005)

Catching the nefarious hate-mongers responsible for the slurs and scribblings has become so important that:

. . . the University's Alumni Association offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for this and other recently reported racially motivated incidents.

(Beta bridge vandals issue apology letter, Kristin Hawkins, staff writer, The Daily Cavalier, Sep. 12, 2005.)

Finally, we must note that UVA has been paying a great deal of attention to "diversity" for quite some time.
Administrators said they are committed to change. On Tuesday, Casteen named the first vice president and chief officer for diversity and equity at U-Va., William B. Harvey, president of the Center for Advancement of Racial and Ethnic Equity at the American Council on Education. The appointment was the result of a commission that has been working on such issues for more than a year.

(From the Sep. 17 Washington Post article.)

*

My interest in racial difficulties on American campuses began in 1987 when I was working at the University of Michigan. There was a huge amount of unrest in the winter of that year. While it was going on, I religiously clipped papers and gathered whatever other information I could. Last year, I gathered those clips and notes and wrote a longish article about the things that happened: Virtual Racism at the University of Michigan in the Winter of 1987.

The events of that winter almost seem to have followed a script:

  1. Multiple instances of offensive written or spoken words directed at minorities
  2. contribute to a climate of fear and paranoia
  3. and are condemned by top university officials.
  4. Various student-organized or official rallies and demonstrations are held in solidarity with the victims.
  5. At the same time, there are demands for institutional changes -- curricular changes, money for anti-hate groups, diversity officers, etc.
  6. After some period of time, long or short, changes are made and then everyone is happy
  7. for a few years, anyway, and then the process repeats itself.

That script was followed closely at Gonzaga University in Washington State. See my blog entry, Sow a Hate Crime, Reap an Institute. Several incidents of "racist, vile and sometimes threatening mail and phone calls" led to the establishment of the "Gonzaga Institute for Action Against Hate."

No discussion of the opportunistic uses of hate crimes is complete without mentioning the sad case of a professor at Claremont-McKenna college that I've written about in my blog entry Kerri Dunn: Pale Criminal. Dunn slashed the tires on her car and spray-painted it with racist graffiti. Then she went and spoke up at an anti-racist rally! That particular blog entry also discusses developments on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin, where a suspicious egging of a statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. spurred all kinds of initiatives, including one to move statues of Confederate war heroes to less conspicuous locations.

Obviously, I see the general script at work in the recent "incidents" and the responses to them at UVA. My studies of events at University of Michigan in 1987 led me to think that the triggering events -- a racist flier slipped under the door of a dormitory lounge where 20 black women were watching television and a series of vulgar racist jokes told over a student radio station -- may have been staged. My short readings about events at Gonzaga led me to a similar conclusion.

There are several points we might note about the UVA incidents. First, for the most part, the perpetrators avoided causing property damage. There was a "racial epithet written on a dry-erase board." Another "racially offensive message" was "posted" on an apartment door. In another incident, a "black student found a note with racial slurs left on his car door." No spray-paint, no carving of "KKK" into wood, no gouges on the automobile's finish. If hatred is something we learn, the graffitists of UVA were probably sleeping in class.

As to the four instances of slurs being shouted from vehicles, apparently the descriptions of the vehicles were so vague that the police had essentially nothing to go on. I believe that is the reason Casteen went to such lengths to instruct the students at his school in the fine art of reporting a crime.

Finally, a little warning light went on in my brain when I read:

"One of the detectives at the University Police called me personally," said Student Council President Jequeatta Upton, who was among the students who initially reported the graffiti.

(Hawkins, Daily Cavalier, Sep. 12)

Presidents of student councils at universities are typically political activists of one sort or another. I would always consider the possibility that an activist reporting "graffiti" might have been involved in creating it. We might also note that, in 2003, a politically active UVA student of color reported a crime against her that served her political interests quite well and also triggered a great orgy of anti-racism in the administration. (See Racism 101 At The University Of Virginia, by Peter Bradley.)

*

When I was a kid I avidly read crime stories by Edgar Poe and others. I fantasized about solving a crime based on nothing more than news clippings. I have not done that in this blog entry, but maybe I've figured out a few major clues. I have not proven anything, but I have given strong reasons to consider the possibility that the incidents may have been staged.

I hope the parties responsible for those acts of real or imagined ethnic intimidation are caught and appropriately punished. If they were the work of white racists, fine, punish the white racists. If they were the work of black political agitators, then, fine, punish them. And also, in the latter case, make sure that the University of Virginia Alumni Association sends me the $5,000 reward!

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Reader Comment, July 18, 2006:

The thrust of your argument is that there is a pattern for the way hate incidents/crimes are handled at universities, and because there is a pattern, these incidents/crimes must be fabricated? Then you provide one example of the young woman who vandalized her own car. Try reading your own hypothesis objectively and see what you think. Your beliefs are perverting your assertions.
m3peeps.org replies:

Whoa Nelly! Whose beliefs are perverting what here? I do not claim what you claim that I claim. Read my last two paragraphs. I do not claim that all "hate crimes" at universities follow the pattern, I do not claim that all crimes adhering to the pattern are necessarily fabricated. But I do claim, in general and specifically for the benefit of UVA students, that when a series of racial incidents does fit the pattern, then there are excellent reasons for asking serious questions. And what have you, my anonymous correspondent, given me? A stilted attack on arguments I didn't make! That's another red flag, buddy. Thanks!

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Addendum, May 10, 2011:

Another hoax from UVA is in the news. Here are two articles from Abovethelaw.com:

A Law Student Plays the Race Card — and Gets Busted, Big Time By David Lat

What To Do With The UVA Law Student Who Cried Wolf? By Elie Mystal

 
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