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
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 seventies.
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.