About Critical Mass [dot] Writing [dot] Reviews [dot] Contact
« previous entry | return home | next entry »

September 28, 2005 [feather]
Pissed off in Ann Arbor

A few days ago, two University of Michigan students were quietly sitting on their balcony, playing beer pong. The evening was, by their account, like many others, and would have passed into the blurred annals of inebriated memory but for one thing. Two Asian students passed by beneath the balcony, and, according to the police report they later filed, were urinated on by the students above. The urine, according to the students, was accompanied by a stream of ethnic invective. Police have classified the event multiply--as ethnic intimidation, which carries a potential sentence of four years in jail; assault; and, for the the peeing half of the pair, indecent exposure, which could require him to register as a sex offender. Police issued warrants for the offending students' arrests, and the Ann Arbor campus exploded in multiculturalist consternation.

Peeing on members of other ethnic groups while intoning ethnic slurs violates the university's code of conduct, and if UM's Office of Student Conflict Resolution becomes involved, the offenders could face expulsion. Meanwhile, piggyback accusations of "racial bias" are flying fast and thick. The Michigan Daily spoke with several Asian students who have been mocked for being Asian, and reports that the urinary incident has galvanized campus activists, who are demanding that the administration take steps to improve the climate for Asians at UM:

Mobilized by last week's racially motivated assault on two Asian students, the faculty of the Asian-Pacific Islander American Studies program have demanded that the administration take steps to eliminate similar crimes on campus.

Led by American Culture Prof. Amy Stillman, the faculty sent an open letter to top-level University leadership calling on it to "honor its commitment to valuing diversity, by taking a public stand against racially motivated bias and attacks, and to marshall the necessary resources to ensure that the wider university community can collaborate collectively to end such race-based bias and intimidation."

University president Mary Sue Coleman and vice president E. Royster Harper responded in kind, stating in a letter that "they share the faculty's outrage and promised to take steps to end such discrimination, including opening up more lines of communication to increase dialogue about hate crimes and make the University's efforts to combat them more transparent." And Stillman, et al, completed the diversity dance that schools typically do in these moments of public avowal, by stating that while the letter was nice, it was not enough: UM needs "to address not only campus climate, but curriculum," she says, adding that the university needs to offer more courses on diversity, and arguing that the university's present race and ethnicity course requirement is inadequate because there are few courses at UM on Asian culture. Stillman also complained that the university has been remiss because it has never commissioned a study of Asians at UM. Obsequious administrators have promised to investigate just that. They have also sworn to bring the offending students, who are now accused of committing a "hate crime," to justice.

There's just one problem with UM's eager rush to show its ethnic sensitivity, though. No one ever asked the two accused students for their side of the story. When the Daily finally caught up to them, they had a decidedly different version of events. It does not involve peeing on Asian students, and it does involve an altercation in which the Asian students issued physical threats and a few choice racial epithets of their own. Of course, it's quite possible that the students are bending the truth to suit their needs. But then, it's also quite possible that their accusers did the same. Whatever really happened, what's certain is that UM administrators, led by their president, jumped on a bandwagon without verifying the facts. A readiness to score easy points in the diversity game is obvious in the actions of both Stillman and Coleman. So is a distressing willingness to dispense with little procedural annoyances such as due process for the accused and getting the facts straight.

Thanks to Maurice Black for the tip.

posted on September 28, 2005 8:36 AM


My favorite part of the Michigan Daily article is this line:

Stephanie Kao, a Business senior and co-chair of the United Asian American Organizations, said that whether the incident is true or not is beside the point — it highlights the negative campus climate toward Asians students.

The article directly quotes her as saying people are angrier about the slurs, and that this incident is a catalyst for change.

Well, only if it's determined to have happened. Every university judicial system that I'm aware of uses preponderance of the evidence as the standard of proof. That means you don't have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt (99% sure), you only have to show that it is more likely than not the case (51% sure). Even with this low burden of proof, and based on the information in this article, I could not find these two in violation of a bias incident. I would likely charge them all with disruptive behavior, and I'd have to charge the Korean students with threatening behavior (which would go over like a lead balloon, but they chose to return with some friends to confront the guys).

I don't see a good case here for the bias incident, though it's certainly possible that there's information that hasn't been released. I hope there's not a finding of in violation just to appease some activists.

Posted by: Tait Ransom at September 28, 2005 10:08 AM

I saw that too - "Stephanie Kao, a Business senior and co-chair of the United Asian American Organizations, said that whether the incident is true or not is beside the point". The fact that people can think this way explains how Dan Rather can have a shred of credibility left (not with me).

Posted by: Laura at September 28, 2005 7:52 PM

What's the problem? Ms. Kao clearly has assimilated postmodernist principles. Some of you may recall that when it turned out that "I,Rigoberta Menchu" was a work of fiction, the academics assigning it didn't bat an eyebrow. Either Indians have a different approach to truth or it illuminates deeper truths, or whatever. It's only bourgeoise male thinking that would call it "a lie."

Same thing here. It doesn't matter if it didn't, it could have or should have and therefore all the hoopla and...no surprise...all the money should be spent anyway.

I've tried adopting this mode of thinking: Lucy Lawless is actually ringing my doorbell and asking if she can come up and get out of these wet clothes...well, OK, she isn't but she should be...damn, doesn't make it any better.

Posted by: Alex Bensky at September 29, 2005 11:17 AM

"They have also sworn to bring the offending students, who are now accused of committing a "hate crime," to justice."

I am beyond sick of faculty "outrage". They would be trumpeting "innocent until proven guilty" if it was a minority student caught in the act of a major felony--heck, they'd be stating their fear that campus police were racially profiling; they would not be demanding "justice" if it was a death row inmate; they would not be wanting to revamp the whole curriculum to include moral education if it was just one of those run -of-the-mill crimes like rape or murder, whether by a white person or a minority. But if a minority says it's racial, despite the fact that the accuseds' neighbors take the accuseds' sides (other news report), then everything goes out the window and indoctrination must ensue and the accused are assumed guilty.

I want to see these outraged faculty members have to explain themselves. Much as some young college males can be irritating, especially when drunk (and littering, as these guys were), they should NOT be brought up on some trumped-up garbage.

Posted by: Glenda at September 29, 2005 5:36 PM