Support statement received negatively: Public responds to faculty-signed statement regarding alleged assault

Posted by Jean-Ann Kubler

A statement of support for the four students involved in last semester's Compton's Restaurant incident is receiving negative responses from the public.

The statement, originally issued through the campus Student Announcements e-mail on Dec. 6, is signed by Associate Professor of American Studies and Director of Intercultural Affairs Winston Grady-Willis, Lisa Grady-Willis, a lecturer in the theater department, Mason Stokes, chair of the English department and Director of Student Diversity Programs Mariel Martin.

The four faculty members point out issues of bias, media harassment and negative public opinion regarding the alleged assault of a Saratoga Springs man on Dec. 18, 2010.

An article in the Albany Times Union titled "Skidmore professors call treatment of students unfair," republished the statement and has received a number of online comments calling the statement of support biased and misguided.

The statement alleges that the four students implicated in the assault, Justin Tavarez '13, Sakhile Sithole ‘13, Elijah Johnston ‘14 and Korvin Vicente ‘13, have been misrepresented by the media.

The statement also asserts that due to the constraints of the legal system, the students involved have not been allowed to speak out and the media narrative is one-sided as a result.

"Though 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, and that perspective has focused on the notion of a hate crime," the statement said.

The hate crime status of the assault charge was dropped when a new witness testimony suggested the use of the word "nigger" during the alleged assault was not racially charged.

Despite the retraction of the hate crime charge, issues of race and socio-economic status still appear in media discussions of the alleged assault.

"Those both inside and outside of our institution have called into question the significance of diversity initiatives in creating an unsafe climate. When you hear such iterations, we urge you to question the validity and severity of such indictments," proposes the statement of support.

A commenter on the Times-Union website named "Rob" pointed out a possible shortcoming in the statement of support.

"I guess I don't understand how you can plead guilty to assault and still be misrepresented, marginalized, and/or misunderstood… I just don't understand the point of this letter, particularly since it completely ignores the guilty plea."

Another commenter named "Kevin" said the statement is disingenuous because the faculty allege bias but do not offer any evidence.

Commenter "Prince of Ruins" said the students are being treated leniently, not with the bias the statement of support alleges.

"Nowhere in the article does it mention that these students are part of the Skidmore basketball team. We all know that athletes are treated differently in the ‘court of public opinion' as well as the criminal justice system," the comment states.

Further comments on the Times Union site allege that there is not only a problem with the statement of the support, but with the college as an institution.

"Like it or not Skidmore students now have a reputation for being thugs and now everyone will have to pay for it to a certain degree – even if that means guilty in the court of public opinion," said Joseph Cea in a comment on the article.

A comment from "LouHarv" stated "This whole incident, especially the school's response has tarnished Skidmore's reputation."

The college has responded to the issues of bias noted in the case with a series of on-campus discussions.

A teach-in was scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 2 but was postponed due to the college's snow day.

On Feb. 9, Peer Mediators and members of Inter-Group Relations led a student-only forum to discuss bias issues.

The forum, called "The Talk We Need to Have at Skidmore" is discussed further on page 14.

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