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.”