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SOU took too long to respond to racism

Southern Oregon University students are justifiably frustrated that it took university officials two months to publicly respond to racist vandalism in a dormitory.

The incident involved someone scrawling the n-word on the door of an African American resident assistant in Shasta Hall. More recently, a swastika was drawn in the same dorm.

SOU officials and students have investigated, but have been unable to determine who was responsible. President Linda Schott says the university’s protocol in such situations is to assess the seriousness and threat level of the incident and publicize it accordingly.

Apparently that means university officials decide that some incidents aren’t serious enough to even acknowledge publicly in a timely fashion.

“I need them to pay attention,” Schott told the Tidings. “They’re less likely to pay attention” if every incident is treated the same.

“It’s true we didn’t communicate,” she said. “The team was determining what kind of communication was needed. Based on what we know now, this incident doesn’t rise to that level.”

At this point, Schott said, investigators don’t know if the vandalism was motivated by hate or “someone ticked off because the RA told them their music was too loud.”

That’s fair enough. It would certainly be inappropriate for the university to declare the incident a hate crime without evidence. No one wants to see the administration overreact. But the incident did happen. Why keep it under wraps for two months?

College students are not children, and are certainly capable of evaluating the seriousness of such a situation for themselves. What’s most likely to make them angry is the implication that they can’t be trusted to do that, and won’t “pay attention” if incidents are publicized too readily.

Schott emphasized that there is no known hate group on campus and no discernible trend in that direction. That’s good, but it’s not an excuse not to acknowledge inappropriate behavior by a student or students.

Schott said the protocol was adopted some time ago, and she wants to review it for possible changes. That should happen, and students should be involved.

Officials should listen carefully to students’ concerns about transparency, and be prepared to explain why it took two months to respond publicly.