Just a week after four white San Jose State University Students were accused of hate crimes for tormenting their black roommate, a two-year-old study has surfaced indicating African-American students have faced similar racist behavior from faculty, staff and fellow students in the past, but the university has failed to act.
Just days after the hate crime charges broke, SJSU President Mohammad Qayoumi admitted the university did not do enough to address the serious allegations, which included students writing racial slurs on a communal white board, shackling their black roommate with a bicycle u-lock, and decorating their dorm suite with Confederate and Nazi paraphernalia. In a statement released during a joint press conference with the NAACP on Monday, Qayoumi admitted, "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."
But Qayoumi's poor management of racial issues extends further back than this fall semester. In 2011, the university's previous president commissioned a diversity study, conducted by a group called the Committee on Campus Climate. The group, which was headed up by Sociology professor Susan Bell Murray, was dissolved when current SJSU president Mohammad Qayoumi came on board two years ago and the report was never publicized. President Qayoumi dissolved the committee with the intention of creating his own diversity task force called the Commission on Diversity, but his new group has only met once since then, Mercury News reports today.
Murray's full 100-page report, meanwhile, has finally been published online and sheds some light on what students from various ethnic background and sexual orientations were going through. Black students interviewed for the report claimed at the time that there was "an ever-present expectation that because of their skin color, they were not likely to measure up" and that white students received preferential treatment. Black athletes also claimed they were criticized for wearing low-slung pants, but white athletes were free to sag without consequence.
The white students named in the latest accusations — 18-year-old Logan Beaschler of Bakersfield; 19-year-old Joseph Bomgardner of Clovis, California; 18-year-old Colin Warren of Marin County; and a fourth 18-year-old student from Los Angeles who turned himself in later — have said they though their actions against their black roommate were meant to be "pranks" that were "supposed to ruffle people's feathers." While trying to explain why he hung a Confederate flag in a communal room, Beaschler said it was a part of a decorative theme called "The South Shall Rise Again" and that it was a reference to his Southern California upbringing. (Which: no.)
Although Murray's report didn't break wide until this week, members of student organization the Black Unity Group say they brought it to the school's attention last spring while trying to get the university to address their concerns about faculty diversity and stereotypes. University spokeswoman Pat Harris, on the other hand, claimed the diversity issues laid out in the report were well known on campus and denied that the school had purposefully hidden it. According to Harris, issues like these are "challenges" that come along with being one of the most diverse universities in the country and the report was likely lost during the change in administration. (Per the school's own fact sheet the student body was 32% Asian, 25% white, 21% Hispanic and only 3% black in Spring of 2013.)
With two vice presidents leading it, Qayoumi's Commission on Diversity was designed to enable actual change on campus, even though it has only ever had one meeting. Murray, for her part, applied to be part of the new commission but was turned down for unknown reasons. For now, however, Murray and another campus counselor are forging ahead, and bringing back the Campus Climate Committee, whether the administration likes it or not.