“Let’s hold people responsible for their actions and tell them that they can't perpetrate hate one day, and wear Columbia Blue another,” cried one student on Facebook. In light of the rapid media response to Chad Washington’s alleged hate-based assault of an Asian-American Columbia student earlier this month, students have shared their reactions vocally. The rhetoric has been inflammatory, and the arguments have been vindictive. It seems that Washington’s alleged crime against an individual has become something else entirely: a crime against our community.
The student I quoted posted on a class page on Facebook seeking support for a petition, “Suspend and Remove Columbia Athletes who Perpetrate Bias and Discrimination.” As of now, 148 people have signed this petition. This reflects a polarized group’s desire to see justice served to the athletes involved in this developing case and any of their affiliates or cohorts. Comments on this petition have been visceral: “Get rid of them and anyone who condoned what they said.” For some, it seems that the only resolution that goes far enough is these athletes’ immediate expulsion, or at the very least, their suspension from the team. In these students’ eyes, those are the only courses of action drastic enough to prove that Columbia and its athletics department is taking a strong stance against discrimination.
Evidently, some students have not been satisfied with either the scale or the speed of the administration’s response to this incident. I feel this dissatisfaction stems largely from our collective obfuscation regarding what exactly it is that our administration should achieve in its response to this incident. Undeniably, there has been a deep wound inflicted on our community, and an internal rift has become more clearly defined. After skimming comments on various articles and Facebook posts regarding the incident, I’ve seen a spectrum of responses with students generally gravitating toward one of two sides: They either want to inflict swift and unforgiving punishment on the football players and to reevaluate the entire program, or they want to give the athletics department time to investigate the matter thoroughly before making a final judgment on what the institutional response will be.
I’ll be forthright: I fall in the second camp. Why? The approach of a considered response is grounded in logical fact-finding rather than emotional or moral compulsion. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be morally compelled to demand justice, or that we should dismiss our emotional responses to the situation. We’re only human. But when we’re looking for an institution to respond to an incident like this, we have to understand that the preservation and improvement of the community supersedes the opinions of a minority on campus as an impetus for action. It is our community that has been wounded, thus it is our community that must be healed. Punishing the alleged perpetrators of the crime immediately may make the victim of the crime and his supporters feel as though justice has been served, but it is only a short-term response. As spectators viewing the incident through media, we must also look at the bigger picture and focus on a long-term response because we are removed from the crime itself in a way that Washington and his victim are not.
Punishing and reprimanding the perpetrators is essential, but this process does not demand or benefit from the addition of our emotions. Our opinions cannot and should not influence how either the government or the University’s law is upheld in this case. The objective consequences of Washington’s actions, in particular, should be determined between Washington, the legal authorities, and any individuals the University selects to hold a panel review. They should be given a reasonable amount of time to reach a decision about these consequences, for they cannot be made overnight. While the appropriate individuals focus on the specific response to the incident, let us focus on a communal response to the larger problem it brings to mind before the polarization this incident has created dissipates and a tremendous opportunity slips by.
Our problem is addressing a culture of discrimination and a culture that enables violence. We have to look at a more sustained response that targets a system rather than an individual. One such response I agree strongly with is a petition drafted by outgoing presidents and chairs of student councils and governing boards, calling for a full investigation of the athletics department to discover to what extent it systematically condones the behavior that resulted in the incident earlier this month. This approach envisions effecting change that will produce a better community, and does not focus on reprimanding select individuals.
As a student body, we should think seriously about what actions we want to push our administration to take. This requires a tempered attitude in approaching the problem at hand. Moving forward, our primary goal is to strive towards ensuring that this kind of crime is never repeated, and that this kind of hate is no longer perpetuated. We must direct our efforts as students toward investigating the structures that enabled this incident.
Progress is as necessary as justice.
The author is a Columbia College first-year. He is a Spectator associate design editor.
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