The two well-publicized incidents of racism on the University of Missouri campus, consisting of offensive slurs directed at African-American students, have not been independently confirmed. That does not indicate that these events never happened, and to suggest that they did not unduly maligns the characters of those leveling these accusations. Even after the investigations into these incidents are complete, we might never know the truth about them. It is that ambiguity that makes the school’s excessive reaction to these charges so disturbing.
The allegation that school administrators were slow walking the investigation into claims of racial discrimination prompted Mizzou students to construct an Occupy-like tent city and led one particularly committed student to go on a hunger strike. Before there had been any conclusive investigation into these incidents, the University of Missouri’s president and chancellor were compelled to resign. One professor who declined to cancel an exam in deference to the students’ self-professed senses of trauma was so aggressively harassed that he offered his resignation, too, though it was rejected by the school. While we do not know if the students who allege that they encountered discriminatory language did indeed experience that adversity, the lack of corroborating evidence would lead any objective observer to urge caution. That instinct in itself has been impeached of late as evidence of latent prejudice – or, at least, a disturbing lack of empathy and zeal for the cause of retributive social justice.
When it comes to investigating accusations of racism on campus, there are mountains of reasons for skepticism. Even on the University of Missouri campus, one of the incidents that caused a national furor has been cast into doubt. The story of a swastika painted in human feces in one of the campus residence halls has been difficult to confirm. The school’s Residence Halls Association immediately alerted the student body to this vandalism and described it as “an act of hate,” but The Federalist’s Sean Davis has been unable to find one administrator who saw this incident, one photograph of it, or anyone who cleaned the mess up. The University of Missouri Police Department released a heavily redacted report on the event, which does seem to confirm its existence. That report does not, however, reveal any details about the suspected perpetrators. You’ll forgive the expression given the context, but something doesn’t smell right here.
Still, before the facts are fully known about this act of defacement, students are demanding a cultural inquiry and a national conversation about its implications. “Just like any racism case against any type of minority, it should be discussed and it should be on national media,” Insisted one representative of an on-campus Jewish organization. “National media” attention might be the problem. A plague of incidents involving falsified accusations of discrimination, often perpetrated by the accusers themselves, has recently become lamentably commonplace on American college campuses.
In order to combat the supposed scourge of “structural racism,” it seems that much of it has to be invented. A grossly racist flyer circulated on the campus of Ohio’s Oberlin College in 2013 sparked massive campus-wide protests and resulted in cancelled classes. The pamphlet repeatedly used anti-gay, anti-Jewish, and anti-black slurs, and demanded that all these undesirables be locked in “cages,” but it turned out to be the work of two liberal activists. One of the hoaxers was a member of the group “White Allies Against Structural Racism.” Worse still, the campus administrators knew that this incident was a hoax even as the classes for which their students were paying exorbitant fees to attend were being cancelled.
In 2012, a University of Wisconsin, Parkside student found herself on a racist “hit list” that included the names of a number of African-American students targeted for violence. That list appeared several days after two nooses made out of rubber bands appeared on campus. The incidents exploded in the news and became the focus of an investigation by the Kenosha County District Attorney’s office, but that investigation revealed that this student who originally exposed the plot was behind the whole affair. What gave her away was the fact that the only name on the “hit list” spelled correctly was her own.
The student activists on Vassar College’s Orwellian-named “Bias Incident Response Team” found themselves busy indeed in November of 2013. They were supposedly combating an epidemic of hateful and insensitive messages directed toward blacks, women, and the transgendered scrawled and spray-painted on student residencies. Guess what? The perpetrators of this act of bias were none other than the members of the anti-bigotry brigade themselves.
This is not a new phenomenon, nor is it especially unpredictable. “I’m not racist against African-Americans,” averred one Binghamton, New York-based Hinman College Jewish student after he was caught writing anti-black messages and swastikas on his own residency’s message board in 2006. That student defended himself by noting that he only hoped to “raise awareness” about the plight of racial antipathy on campus, a scourge so scarce it apparently needs to be fabricated. An African-American University of Virginia law student ignited controversy in 2011 when he confessed that he was harassed and assaulted by two white university police officers. “This was not the first time that I have been harassed by police officers and it will not be the last,” the student wrote. The accusation inflamed racial tensions on campus and ignited anti-police protests, neither of which abated after the accuser revealed that he made the whole story up in order to draw attention to “the topic of police misconduct.”
This phenomenon isn’t limited to race, either. In 2012, hundreds of students at the Central Connecticut State University marched in solidarity with a lesbian student who reportedly found notes in her dormitory room and threatening messages scrawled on her door attacking her sexuality. “All I have to say is that I’m not going to be run out of my home, and I will not be intimidated by hate,” the student declared at the rally where she was surrounded by her sympathetic comrades. A cursory review of the campus surveillance system revealed a pattern; it was the victim herself who was writing these threatening messages and subsequently faced felony charges of fabricating evidence.
These students’ motives are not difficult to comprehend. The incentive to invent episodes of discrimination is basically a form of Munchausen Syndrome; one that is exacerbated by the press that routinely doles out the attention that these hoaxers so desperately seek. The dangerous idea that someone who alleges they have been the victim of bigoted or sexually discriminatory violence has “the right to be believed” — a notion irresponsibly lent credence by no less a figure than Hillary Clinton — has nurtured the idea among students that they can get away with these fabrications. Not only does no one enjoy “the right to be believed” in our constitutional republic, but the idea that presumed innocence is an intolerant concept could have catastrophic consequences if it is not checked. Surely, bigoted discrimination and violence is a real phenomenon, but it is delusional to pretend it has not been stigmatized to a point that it can only survive in the underground, particularly on college campuses. So, too, must we condemn those who claim that investigating claims of prejudice is itself bigoted. Only then will the risks associated with manufacturing incidences of prejudice like those above begin to outweigh the rewards.