|AFROMERICA - A Nation Under One God|
Hampton University Repression |
Students Not Expelled! ...But Fight Not Over
By John Robinson
Hampton University students faced disciplinary hearings on Dec 2, 2005 at 9:00 am in the Student Center cyber lounge. As I arrived I immediately noticed bands of protesters already picketing right outside the University. By the time the six other students and I met with the parents and lawyers in front of the room that the hearing was to be held, there were already over 20 student supporters standing right outside the door.
As we made last minute preparations to our cases, students continued to pour into the student center. At about 9:20 the parents, character witnesses, students, and administrators began to enter the room. After everyone was seated, the Dean of Men and Dean of Women outlined the rules of the hearing for everyone in attendance. They told everyone that the only question-asking would be done by the administration.
Students did not have the ability to question the shabby evidence presented against them and instead had to rely on the word of the campus detective relating to what was actually on the video footage.
The administrators then decided to sequester the seven students and question them individually. They allowed only the pre-selected family, lawyers, and character witnesses to come in the students. Even though the notice sent to students suggested they would have an opportunity to present a case, the hearing amounted to not much more than a formal interrogation.
Shortly after the hearing had commenced it became abundantly clear that Hampton University was no longer in control. As was mentioned before, the Administration's case was extremely weak. The administrators seemed nervous as they listened to the chief lieutenant clumsily describe the one piece of footage that he had an opportunity to view and that he elected not to present.
But things only got worse from there for the Administration as the lawyers exposed the unfairness of the Administrative Hearing process itself. Also the parents were in strongly in support of their children and nearly every one lashed out at the administration at some point. The parents made good points about the procedural injustices inherent in Hampton's administrative hearings.
As discontent among the parents continued to mount, more and more students stood in front of the door wearing paraphernalia that blatantly revealed that they were in support of the student activists, and more people grabbed pickets and duck tape and joined the free speech demonstration.
The administrators seemed flustered and nervous as they had to continually defend the legitimacy of their Kangaroo Court. It was so obvious that Hampton was a lot more accustomed to handling things in ways that were unapologetically authoritarian and not subject to many of the rules we take for granted. They were not used to the "checks and balances" that the people themselves imposed on Hampton. This caused the proceedings to degenerate to a series of dramatic power trips.
The students watching the hearing through the glass witnessed the Dean of Students, who was supposed to have no part in the hearing, angrily march from his seat in the back to the front of the room and threaten to throw out a professor who spoke as a character witness for the students.
The administrative panel also threw one of the student's father out of the hearing, and threatened to throw out another students mother and one of the lawyers. The administrators were incredibly rude to students and parents alike, instinctively telling them to "shut up" and threatening to dismiss them.
Meanwhile, outside the hearing, the police carried out the authoritarian practices of the school on the student supporters. There were police EVERYWHERE and they confiscated the posters and filmed students with reckless abandon. A student DJ who supports the activists attempted to play music in the student center, which happens everyday, and he was promptly stopped by a university official fearing the music would further embolden the students.
At the beginning of the hearing we were told that we would not receive verdicts today and we should expect them in the next 2-3 days. However after the strong show of support by the students and community, the university decided to have the verdict ready mere hours after the hearing had finished. The students were not expelled. To save face, the university imposed 20 hours of "community service" on most of the involved students. This is an illegitimate punishment for legitimate protest. But it also represents the administration having to back down from its most draconian threats in the face of opposition.
On December 2, Hampton University looked like I've never seen it look before. The students, it seemed, realized that this was not a fight for the Hampton seven but a fight for the student body. More importantly they realized that they themselves could fight to make Hampton and the world a better place. Students, who only days ago wouldn't sign a petition because they feared harsh repercussion, now boldly stood in the defense of the activists against campus police.
Teachers who were previously silenced by the privacy obligations of the school now spoke to their students in class and urged them to become involved. Black students from other schools became more involved in the antiwar struggle at their own schools. The students at Hampton for the first time saw someone stand up against the university and they saw the university do all it could to back down.
At the end of the hearing, the Dean of Men could not restrain himself from questioning me about the article "Corporate Plantation". Before I had a chance to answer the Dean of Students interjected that it was not appropriate. I have no doubt that if the school was not being so closely watched, that line of questioning would have went much further. But the student movement showed its strength and resilience.
The students at Hampton greatly appreciate the many people who joined with them in this struggle against this repressive administration. We showed them something they had not saw in a long time. However the school intends to downplay the event so the controversy will go away. The atmosphere will probably become worse after that as they will do all they can to prevent activists from doing anything especially now that they can identify several. That means that even though we were victorious in this battle, the fight goes on.
The actions of the administration has made Hampton's campus fertile ground for social activism. We must capitalize on that and demand that our group be recognized and demand a more democratic atmosphere at Hampton. Black students have infinite potential but the program of Hampton MUST be counteracted.
In recognizing the rising repression at other schools against students and professors we do consider this battle in the context of the larger struggle against empire and war. This fight ultimately got many black students involved in the student movement, and so long as we are able to organize on the ground there will be many more. Let us continue our fight and make the change we know is possible.
JOHN ROBINSON is one of the Hampton students assigned community service and is the author of "Corporate Plantation: Political Repression and the Hampton Model." Contact him and the other students at email@example.com
For ongoing updates of the Hampton case - and another case of university administrators threatening expulsion for peaceful protest, at UW-Madison - see http://www.campusantiwar.net/
© December 2005 By Afromerica
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