SJSU president on black student: ‘I failed him’ (Participation)

  • Alice Huffman, president of the California NAACP, speaks to students on the San Jose State campus about the incident. Photo: James Tensuan, SFC
    Alice Huffman, president of the California NAACP, speaks to students on the San Jose State campus about the incident. Photo: James Tensuan, SFC

The head of San Jose State University said Monday that the school should have stepped in earlier to stop the alleged abuse of a 17-year-old African American student by his white roommates, who have been charged with battery and hate crimes.

President Mohammed Qayoumi spoke as police reports emerged showing that when a Confederate flag was flown in a window of the victim’s four-bedroom suite in a freshman dormitory, the university’s housing office only asked the residents to remove it.

The flag’s owner then hung it up in the common area of the suite, the reports say.

The abuse began at the start of the school year in August and continued until a dorm manager reported it Oct. 14, authorities said. The four students implicated by campus police, though, were not suspended from school until last week.

“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,” Qayoumi said of the African American student, who has not been identified.

Task force to be formed

Qayoumi said he would name an “independent expert” to lead a task force to study the case and propose reforms.

Authorities said the student’s roommates nicknamed him “Three-fifths” and “Fraction” as the semester began – references to the Constitution’s original formula that counted slaves as three-fifths of a person.

Some of the roommates, authorities said, clamped a U-shaped bike lock around his neck, barricaded him in his room and displayed Nazi and Confederate symbols in the suite.

Charged with misdemeanor battery and hate crimes are Colin Warren, 18, of Woodacre, Logan Beaschler, 18, of Bakersfield and Joseph Bomgardner, 19, of Clovis (Fresno County). Charges against a fourth student, a juvenile, have not been disclosed.

According to police reports, the investigation began when the black student’s parents, after seeing the Confederate flag as well as a racial slur on a dry-erase board in the dorm suite, made a report to the housing office.

A housing manager spoke to the student and went to police – though she told them initially that the student wished to keep police out of it. But the campus police force pursued the case.

In interviews, the student told investigators that he didn’t know whether his roommates were motivated by racism or a desire to pull off pranks. In any event, he said he was scared and often stayed in his bedroom or avoided the suite altogether.

References to slavery

The student, according to police reports, said race had “always been used” in the abuse. He said he viewed the bike lock attack and the flying of the Confederate flag as references to slavery.

The roommates, meanwhile, told police that they had no animosity toward black people. They and other dorm residents said the African American student had been targeted as part of a series of pranks involving residents.

Asked about the Confederate flag, which included the slogan “The South shall rise again,” Beaschler said it was a reference to his Southern California roots and was meant to “ruffle people’s feathers,” according to a police report.

Beaschler said his posting of Nazi symbols and his writing of a racist slur on the dry-erase board were jokes with no ill intent.

Some students said the alleged abuse wasn’t motivated by racism but a desire to pull off edgy pranks. A Korean American woman who lived across the hall from the African American student referred to the racist symbols in the suite as “dark humor.”

Police quoted the woman as saying she “grew up in the era where it (prejudice) doesn’t seem present to us, it’s just in the books. It doesn’t seem like a big deal for us to do things like this.”

She said the black student had become the focus of pranks because “he’s an easy target and he takes it well.”

Demian Bulwa is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: dbulwa@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @demianbulwa

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4 thoughts on “SJSU president on black student: ‘I failed him’ (Participation)

  1. It is obvious here how racism still is present in America today. It is unbelievable that the San Jose University faculty and student body let this happen. In my opinion, the presence of the confederate flag is a right as a US citizen of free speech, but once the flag is being used for harassment that right is immediately revoked. The college and staff was wrong for letting this situation escalate this far. There should be support groups in place for students who are experiencing harassment, and consequences for those inhumane citizens. The relevance to slavery is what really struck me in this article; these students had premeditated this harassment with the intent of harming and scaring this black student with prejudice motifs. This should not be tolerated anywhere in the world and is unacceptable, and unconstitutional. I do not believe that the constitution should be compromised to make new amendments regarding racism.

  2. This story touches on so many sterotypes I don’t even know where to begin. It all started with the white kid instigating the black kid with the confederate flag, a backhanded gesture, but everyone is entitled to their own opinion. If the confederate flag had been placed somewhere private for the owner to see and worship, that should be fine. It doesn’t matter what anyone else believes, if that’s the kids belief system, he is allowed to practice whatever he believes as long as he doesn’t take physical action to try and purge the U.S. of its “black problem”. When he put the flag in the common area, that is a clear sign of disrespect to not only the black community, but even to the community of the “korean-American across the hall.” People don’t realize the impact what these symbols truly mean. I’m sure the white kids thought it was a funny joke to play on the defenseless black kid who did not want any confrontation. And that always seems to be the case. In places that are predominantly white and the outcry from the black communitiy is so small, people get away with things of this nature all the time, especially at university’s and other places of higher education and class. It’s a shame to see things like this go on today, but nothing will ever change if attention isn’t brought to examples like this and people begin to stand up and openly fight for the rights and respect of their ancestors and future generations.

  3. This article is not only a reminder that racism is out there, it just shows how far people will take bullying. We’ve all heard the dark and depressing stories about those who have been victims of bullying. Bullying is people who are constantly egging on feelings that bring insecurities onto someone else. Well that’s exactly what this is, but taken to an extremely offensive level. Racism is racism no matter the intent. It doesn’t matter that this kid may have been an easy target. It is insane to me that it is even still a thing and honestly makes me nervous for the future. I can’t believe people are still so naïve and ignorant about African American society as a whole. How can kids think that hating and “poking fun” at someone’s history is just a simple prank. It is also so hard for me to believe that the college didn’t take a stronger stance. I think it should be so pushed as a university to stand up for kids who feel victimized by students who are being racist.

  4. There is absolutely no excuse for the way these students were behaving. May it be a prank or pure racism, but whom in their right mind is able to sit down and listen to excuses given by these white students. I don’t think that it’s the president’s fault, but the communities these students grew up in. You cannot blame the school for the way these students behaved. Sure, they did play a role in it because they should be aware of bullying; however the root of the problem is how these students are the way that they are. They said that the things they did were not motivated by racism, rather the desire to pull off pranks. A prank is practical joke, in no way was this a practical joke. A practical joke is if I switched the cereal in my sisters’ food for sticks of broccoli, not hanging the confederate flag outside a dorm window and abusing an African American student by bike locking his head and drawing Nazi symbols in his dorm. Sure, the president apologized- but what is he going to do about it now, how can he make this example a positive one and influence other schools around the US? It’s the steps after acts like this that count too. Schools and colleges across the US need to come up with ways to educate their youth on how to treat people, and figure out how to prevent things like this from ever happening.

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