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Monday, September 21, 2015

Under the Covers

WWJJD? John Jay: lawyer, diplomat, founder
It's been a cover story: locally, regionally, and nationally. The video evidence seems conclusive. Two players from John Jay High School took cheap shots at a referee near the end of a recent football game. What followed was just as absurd. First, accusations that a coach put them up to it (troubling if it is true... and if it isn't), and second, that the referee had made not one, but two, racial slurs, using the n-word as well as telling Spanish speakers to speak English, because "this is America."

By most accounts the referee has an impeccable record. And if he is racist there are better ways to address such allegations. The cover stories of the young men ring false. Sure, we live in an age where abuse of authority and racism seem to make daily headlines. So we shouldn't dismiss the statements of the teens without some review. Indeed, cell phone video is routinely exposing what we often feared. However, anyone who watched this unfold could have scripted how it would play out before the clock hit zero and people ran for cover: video evidence, accusations of racism, lawyering up on both sides, talk radio conversations about criminal charges, veiled allegations of slander, and claims that boys will be boys. These boys, appearing on national television have little credibility, not because of their race, not because of their hair, but because their massaged statements seem manufactured, again by script. The incident video shows two players taking action into their own hands with the subtlety of a Donald Trump insult.But one of the parents claim it is being misinterpreted.

Sadly, we have seen this across campuses too. The racist sing-song from Oklahoma University with the hollow apology and claim that the leader was perhaps drunk, misunderstood and is really a good guy, is one recent example. Like the boys from John Jay, the young men involved were sorry, but were suddenly the victims being harassed on social media. The OU boys hired attorneys and the fraternity may sue someone, because, that's what you do. Never mind that this may be part of the group's culture.

The men at Old Dominion displaying their Daddy Day Care signs were just as brazen. In some ways, they're worse, because they think since they were just "joking" it made everything okay. This culture, the one of misogyny, is what partly underlies the issues campuses face regarding sexual assault. Objectification is no joking matter, and victims everywhere are saying so. Loudly. Unfortunately, in sexual assault cases, there is little incentive for the accused to be truthful. The accused face consequences for policy violations and because they might also face criminal and civil charges, mostly have to hire attorneys and repeat the now common mantra "based on the advice of my attorney I refuse to answer any questions." Suspension is one thing, jail time another.

There are other, lighter examples. For years our students would make up excuses in hopes of being released from the residency requirement. One year a student reported a bed-wetting problem. Word got out and the next year the bed-wetters on campus were lining up at the housing office, documentation in hand. It's not out of the ordinary for students who face our Student Conduct Board for minor alcohol violations to later tell board members they thought they would take their chances by lying. No hard feelings.

Welcome to college, where Web pages tout integrity, global citizenship, service, and scholarly communities, gloss over tales of adolescents behaving badly while maturing into adults. By-and-large, most students are mostly terrific, most of the time (just avoid YikYak). We offer a safe place for students to make mistakes and learn. Some would say it is insular. Sometimes it is hard to keep up with cases of poor behavior. Other times we find a glimmer, when someone takes responsibility for his or her actions. In a recent hearing, two first-year pot smokers were so sweet, so apologetic, and so convincing to the conduct board, that the older students wanted to take them home with them. And the sanctions suggested they were rewarded for their candor. Other times many students are generally reflective about their choices, their reputations, and their futures.

There is frequently incentive to lie, deflect, blame, downplay, and justify.

I don't have any answers to this. It's simply the world we live in, where we spin, we lawyer up, and we dodge responsibility. It happens with high school kids in San Antonio and deflated footballs in Foxboro. There are certainly bigger issues than football. And college. But it all seems discouragingly the same. We made this bed. Now we lie in it.

1 comment:

Chris Goshell said...

Welcome to "Generation Me", a very interesting read where this generation is all about "Me" and building self esteem (albeit falsely, in some cases). Sadly, taking responsibility for poor choices is in direct opposition of the Generation Me mantra which is proving to hurt the generation. It's an excellent read and very insightful, I recommend it to everyone!