Washington State University should improve its handling of racial harassment complaints, a new state report says, but the outcry over such allegations on campus last spring “distracted and diverted resources” from that goal.
The 102-page report by a task force of the Washington Human Rights Commission recommends a wide range of improvements to WSU’s procedures for handling harassment complaints, including establishing alternatives for resolving disputes, clarifying procedures, investigating all complaints and improving coordination among parties at the school.
But with regard to the “core incident” of the report – a complaint of racial harassment against two students who were eventually cleared by the university’s student conduct board – the task force reported that “some students and apparently some of their mentors … acted in fairly extreme fashion, sometimes with a significant failure of civility.”
Protesters demonstrated in Pullman in February after an Asian-American student, Nina Kim, said she was the target of racial taunts by white basketball players. The players, Robbie Cowgill and Alex Kirk, were cleared of wrongdoing by the student conduct board.
The students told the university they were goofing around and did not intend to convey racial insults through their actions. Before the conduct board decision, fliers appeared on campus accusing the two men of being racist.
The report said critics of the university in that case seemed unduly mistrustful of the university and had unreasonable expectations.
It said that critics’ desire for a zero-tolerance policy for racism “appears to be a demand to accept allegations of racial bias or discrimination at face value and to summarily expel anyone so accused, without any examination of the truth of the allegations, the motivation of the actors, or the magnitude of the offense.”