Klansman sighting that shut down Oberlin campus was student wrapped in a blanket

posted at 8:41 pm on March 5, 2013 by Mary Katharine Ham

When I saw this story Monday, I wondered when we might find out that something much less sinister was afoot:

Early this morning, there was a report of a person wearing a hood and robe resembling a KKK outfit between South and the Edmonia Lewis Center and in the vicinity of Afrikan Heritage House. This report is being investigated by both Safety and Security and the Oberlin Police Department. This event, in addition to the series of other hate-related incidents on campus, has precipitated our decision to suspend formal classes and all non-essential activities for today, Monday, March 4, 2013, and gather for a series of discussions of the challenging issues that have faced our community in recent weeks.

We hope today will allow the entire community—students, faculty, and staff—to make a strong statement about the values that we cherish here at Oberlin: inclusion, respect for others, and a strong and abiding faith in the worth of every individual. Indeed, the strength of Oberlin comes from our belief that diversity and openness enriches us all, and enhances the educational mission at its core.

Campus reports of several racist vandalism incidents had sensitivity police on high alert. But actual police came up with a more likely explanation for the Klansman sighting:

Oberlin College’s “Day of Solidarity” on Monday was sparked by a student who reported seeing a person wearing what appeared to be a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe near the college’s Afrikan Heritage House while driving through campus between 1 and 2 a.m.

College security officers responded to the area, but weren’t able to find a person wearing the infamous KKK garb.

Oberlin police Lt. Mike McCloskey said that authorities did find a pedestrian wrapped in a blanket. He said police interviewed another witness later in the day and that person also saw a female walking with a blanket.

He said Oberlin police were contacted by campus security and interviewed the student who reported seeing the KKK outfit.

McCloskey said police haven’t been able to substantiate the initial report, although that doesn’t mean it was wrong.

As Oberlin alumna Michelle Malkin points out, Oberlin’s campus has a history of fake hate crimes. That doesn’t mean all of them are fake, but it does mean school officials might want to take shaky one-witness reports of Klansmen on campus with a grain of salt before canceling a day of class. But, as any sentient being knows post-Duke lacrosse case, college communities are more than happy to jump to conclusions about campus incidents should such incidents be an invitation to ostentatious self-reflection and flagellation. I imagine, even if a student walking around with a blanket had figured out she might have been the subject of this campus-wide misunderstanding, she’d be petrified to come forward and clear it up. How quickly would she become known solely as the girl who wore a Klan robe outside the Afrikan cultural center, with little regard for what actually happened?

In other on-campus news, DePaul University recently punished a student in the case of vandalism of a pro-life memorial display. The only problem? The punished student was the one who named the vandals, not the actual vandals:

On January 22, 2013, the DePaul chapter of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), having attained the required permits, erected a pro-life display consisting of roughly 500 pink and blue flags planted in the ground of the campus quad to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. That afternoon, numerous DePaul students vandalized the display by tearing the flags from the ground and throwing them in trash cans around campus. Del Campo, YAF’s chairman, reported the vandalism to DePaul’s Department of Public Safety, which investigated.

With the investigation completed, DePaul Assistant Dean of Students Domonic Rollins provided Del Campo with a report from the Department of Public Safety, containing the names of 13 DePaul students who had admitted to vandalizing YAF’s display. On February 5, the national YAF organization posted this document on its website. On February 8, DePaul notified Del Campo that he was suspected of violating DePaul’s Code Of Student Responsibility—including a charge of “Disorderly, Violent, Intimidating or Dangerous Behavior,” which encompasses “creat[ing] a substantial risk of physical harm,” “causing significant emotional harm,” and “bullying.”

“Punishing a student for naming those who committed a crime against him or her sets a very dangerous precedent,” said FIRE’s Shibley. “For example, would DePaul punish a female student for telling her friends to avoid a person who admitted to sexually assaulting her?”

Kristopher Del Campo was charged with “‘Disorderly, Violent, Intimidating or Dangerous Behavior,’ as well as a charge related to ‘Judicial Process Compliance.’”

I’m happy to be vigilant about nasty, racist, or intimidating behavior on campus or anywhere, but the zeal with which college communities shoehorn everything into their preferred paradigm of victims and bullies without evidence mostly results in lost reputations, not gained perspective. As Malkin has written, “liberals see racism where it doesn’t exist, fabricate it when they can’t find it, and ignore it within their own ranks.” It’s a deeply unhealthy, unintellectual practice, and mistakes are rarely followed by apologies.

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