by Paige Duggins
On November 11, a woman on the campus of Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, alleged that an African American male had forced her to perform “chores” and raped her. The women claimed she was kidnapped, had bleach poured on her, was locked in the trunk of her car and abandoned on a road near the university. The university’s Emergency Notification System sent phone calls, text messages, and emails to university students, staff, and parents alerting them that the campus was on lockdown “for safety reasons due to a working crime scene.” The woman stated that her abductor was an African-American man with a star tattoo under his right eye, according to an email sent by University Police Chief Deborah Brown on the evening of the lockdown.
After investigating the incident, the police discovered that woman made up the entire story, and had in fact poured bleach on herself and locked herself in her car trunk before calling the police.
Many students used social media outlets, including Twitter and Facebook, to express their frustration with being “trapped” on campus during the lockdown as well as their fear that the alleged kidnapper was still on university grounds. Some tweets included comments and photos that used references to Black men and crime for humor.
For example, a Black male student posted a photo of himself with a cigarette in his mouth and a black star drawn on his cheek as he clutched two White students, who were bound in string and had duct tape across their mouths. The text that accompanied this tweet was, “Makin friends everyday at Southwestern.” Other pictures of and references to Black men were posted throughout the night.
In response to these posts, some students tweeted about their discomfort with the racialized remarks. “Get a star tattoo and color yourself Black then suddenly evvveryone [sic] calls you a criminal suspect,” one student tweeted. Another student remarked, “how racist everyone has become during this lockdown.”
At least one African American student felt discomfort with the incident, following the “ThingsScarierThanCampusLockdown” hashtag with “Walking down the street #I’mBlack.”
Another tweet described an incident in which White female students screamed in a Black student’s face when he approached them in the library. “When SU girls mistake a Black student in the library for the kidnapper and scream in his face #awkward,” a student posted.
Student Body President Nathan Tuttle said he was disappointed with students’ comments and agreed that something should be done to increase sensitivity to racial issues. “It made me sad, angry, and really disappointed in some people’s reactions,” Tuttle said. “We are a predominantly white institution and time and time again our students have proved that [racism] is still something we are battling – and its closer to home than we like to think.”
Senior David Boutte noted that one of the university’s core values is focused on diversity.
Boutte is the student director for the university’s Diversity Enrichment Committee (DEC). “The institution is not prepared to address problems of this nature,” Boutte said. “The University has made the choice – in the face of feedback from the DEC, the Coalition for Diversity and Social Justice, students, staff, and faculty – to not give us resources that would allow us to address racial incidents on campus.”
In an email circulated the day after the lockdown, university police issued a statement that “confirmed that an arrest has been made in the kidnapping incident that prompted the recent lock-down of the SU campus.” Although the statement later acknowledged that the arrest was in fact the woman who falsely reported the entire incident, the official communication failed to make clear that the alleged African American abductor was fabricated.
Boutte pointed to the misleading statement by University police as an example of the university’s insensitivity to racial overtones. “The first paragraph of that email makes you think that this Black person with a star on their face was arrested, suggesting that the imaginary Black person has done a crime and been caught by the police – and we can all be comfortable again,” Boutte said.
Tuttle agreed that the University should do more to educate students on issues with racial references. “[The University] promises students a safe and comfortable space to learn and to grow,” Tuttle said. “Unfortunately, we have evidence that students of color and White students already experience campus very differently. Students’ racially-charged responses to the lockdown serve to amplify and magnify that difference.”
Tuttle reminds us that the university has a responsibility to support a safe community for all its members. “My hope is that as students we remember that we have a responsibility to foster that safe and welcoming environment for everyone on campus,” Tuttle said. “Every one of our students belongs here, and none deserve to feel otherwise.”
Paige Duggins is a senior at Southwestern University majoring in English and education with a minor in race and ethnic studies. She is the editor-in-chief of the Southwestern University official student newspaper, The Megaphone. The latest data from the U.S. Department of Education shows that Blacks make up 3 percent of the 1,400-member undergraduate student body at Southwestern University.
photo courtesy of Matthew Rutledge