College Racism — Again

Graffiti was discovered warning that on Feb. 2, 2010, the safety of black students here on campus at Hocking College would be in jeopardy

said Hocking College president Dr. Ron Erickson, as reported by the Associated Press. A follow-up note stating “kill the [n-word]” was also found. At least two African American students have permanently withdrawn from the school, and numerous others have moved off-campus.
As reported by the Associated Press, campus spokesperson Judy Sinnott said

Any time that there are young people, you know, there’s going to be tension. Young people will be young people.

Let’s just be clear: Dismissing racial violence (expressed in words or in action) as just “kids being kids” sends a dangerous and clear message of who is protected and, hence, valued at the university, and who is not.

The news coverage (such as here ) reveals striking differences in responses from white students, who thought it was overblown and just a joke, compared to responses from African American students, who reported concern for their safety. In Two-Faced Racism: Whites in the Backstage and Frontstage (Routledge, 2007), Joe Feagin and I discuss the frequency of backstage racist joking among white college students who often dismissed it as “no big deal” as long as they didn’t get caught.

For these students in our research, racist joking was just part of the fun: There were no negative repercussions, and no connections to the larger racial hierarchy. A hostile racial climate could absolutely account for the ambivalent reaction by some white students at Hocking College.

The threats at Hocking College are absolutely a way of instilling fear. Whether or not the threats are carried out, it has already achieved the consequences desired by the person(s) who wrote the threat. The African American students likely did not withdraw simply due to fear of this isolated event, but we can speculate about a hostile racial climate on this campus, and sadly, on many college campuses across the country.American