Midwest U is a football powerhouse. For home games on Saturday
afternoons, everyone walks to the stadium. Visitors are everywhere.
Fifty thousand people are all moving in the same direction. It
can be exciting, but it can also be chaotic. On Saturday, October
9th, Midwest U lost the game. Fifty thousand people left the stadium.
Some were drunk. Some were just angry.
A group of three or four white students began shouting randomly
at blacks leaving the game. Witnesses told the campus newspaper,
the Midwest Daily, that one of the whites threw up a finger
and shouted "Nigger, if you can't win, why don't you just
go home!" Most people kept walking. A couple of white students
tried unsuccessfully to get the instigator to calm down. One group
of black students decided they were fed up. The fight lasted about
five minutes. No one was seriously hurt, but it was a bad day
for Midwest U.
The university has a liberal tradition on most political and social
issues. Students protested the war in Vietnam in the 60s. There
have been teach-ins on war, the environment, and race. There was
once a movement to increase the number of black students on campus
that had considerable support among white students. The number
of African American students increased quite a bit in the
Still, something had changed. Liberal enthusiasm wasn't what it
had been. Perhaps it never ran very deep. In any case, it was
obvious that some of the white students resented the larger presence
of blacks. Some of the black students, on the other hand, preferred
to have their own student union and a floor in one of the dormitories
where not everything said about whites was flattering.
There had been several incidents, but never a fight like this
-a public display with no motive other than racial animosity.
The words and gestures weren't supposed to be part of higher education.
They were supposed to be part of a vulgar racism that resided
somewhere else. But here they were.
Within a few days the Daily had analyzed and reanalyzed
the "incident." The faculty held meetings to discuss
and deplore. Most white students were slightly embarrassed and
hoped it would all go away. Most black students worried about
what it all meant.
On Wednesday, a new organization called the Coalition Against
Racism on Campus (CAROC) met with people from the Daily
and announced its demand that the administration get serious about
racism. CAROC wanted more black faculty, more black students,
more classes to promote cultural sensitivity, and a speech code
that would seriously punish "speech that humiliates and degrades
other students because of their race or color."
CAROC met with the university administration on Friday morning. President Dowell spoke briefly after the meeting. The administration, he said, was glad to see this outpouring of interest in campus harmony. The recent events were "disturbing to all." The entire campus community had an interest in "maintaining a learning environment in which everyone was respected and everyone progressed toward the goal of academic excellence." His administration would meet with both the faculty and its legal advisors to consider the feasibility of adopting a speech code that would deal effectively with expressions of racism on campus. He hoped to announce the results of their deliberations within a few weeks.