Editorial: It's hard to pass judgement

Posted by the Editorial Board

At the end of December most of us were far away from Skidmore slowly recovering from the unhealthy behaviors and demands of finals week, when we received an e-mail from Acting President Susan Kress informing us of an altercation involving four students at Compton's Restaurant on Dec 19. In her Dec. 22 e-mail, Kress, in a reserved manner, told the Skidmore community, "we do not yet have a full account of the incident and its aftermath." Unfortunately for an inquisitive, curious and intellectually rich student body, we still don't have the full account.

The facts first provided to us in the e-mail were "that three of the students were charged with misdemeanors. The fourth was charged with felony assault and a related hate crime stemming from his alleged use of a racial epithet during the incident." These were the facts to ponder, provided to us by our school, as we rang in the New Year. We anxiously awaited the courtroom appearances of the four students, hoping these would somehow clarify the incident over break. Then their hearing on Jan. 13 was adjourned until February.

Meanwhile, the incident assumed its role in the recent tradition of negative Skidmore press, with sensationalized reports in the community newspapers and chiding online comments from the Saratoga community.

The response from the community was at times ignorant and racist, depicting the students as "four drunken black teenage thugs," with some suggesting if "four white Skidmore students gang-[beat] a black man in Compton's, this would be headline news." Kress, in a letter to the campus on Jan. 20, wisely characterized these comments as "uncivil and biased in ways none of us should tolerate."

When we returned for the spring semester, we heard little from the administration, only to continue thinking about questions posited earlier by Kress.  

Then on Feb. 6, several prominent and well-known faculty members sent a campus-wide e-mail pledging their full support of the four students, believing they were "repeatedly misrepresented, continually marginalized, and severely misunderstood." Their defense necessitates a justification based on new facts.

But the faculty members do not provide our much-desired information. They write, "legalities mandate that we refrain from sharing the specifics of the case … it is important to note that only one perspective has been reported by the media ...."

We, therefore, must trust our faculty members, who are academically and socially close to the four accused students, and assume they know new and relevant information regarding the incident that we do not, and that these students have indeed been treated unfairly. By trusting these faculty members, we are also supporting those four students.

If we cannot trust our faculty members, then we should make no judgment regarding the students, as there simply isn't enough information to do so. Even after the students are sentenced, we still may not have new information to make an informed opinion on the students' actions that Sunday morning at Compton's Restaurant.

While we need to support our peers if they have been treated unfairly in the media and judicial system due to their race, we should not be distracted from the violence perpetrated on either side of the altercation that evening. One student in the incident has already pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge.  We need to address this, because our administration has failed to do so.

Dialogue needs to continue about racial bias and violence, which still features prominently in the community. Currently this discussion seems limited exclusively to groups of friends and clubs. We need to speak about it as a college and as members of this city, because the morning of Dec. 19 affected not just a few students, but the entire community.

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