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On Saturday night two campus cops were sent to the dorm room of Graham Gaddis, a first-year student at the University of Kentucky, responding to a report that he’d been seen pouring liquor out of the room’s window. While the cops waited, Gaddis set up a video camera, turned it on, and pointed it at the door.

In the video that follows, Gaddis can be seen denying the allegations against him, then refusing the cops entry, then refusing to move his foot so that they can go around him and into the room. He says they need a warrant, they say they have “administrative rights.”

“Do you want to be kicked out of this university?” one asks. “Because I can pave that road.”

“You have braces,” Gaddis replies. “Nice.”

That’s about when the cursing starts. “Fuck you guys,” Gaddis says. “You guys suck dick. You can’t find shit.” That’s right after he makes a weird, mocking “nee nee nee nee nee” sound at them.

After that, they start debating procedure. “Have you ever read the student code of conduct?” a cop asks. “Multiple times.” “Okay, cool. Then you should know well…”

Gaddis interrupts. “So the student code of conduct — if a cop comes to your door you have to let him in? Nah. Your fucking dorm is exactly the same as your house. You have the exact same privacy rights. You cannot come in my room without consent.” The cop says that’s right, but that administrative representatives, not cops, have the right to enter. When Gaddis asks why his RA isn’t conducting the search, then, the cop says “your belligerence.”

“I’m belligerent, dude? Are you fucking stupid?”

After that they just all hang out for a while, debating the Fourth Amendment, until Gaddis interrupts one too many times.

“No no no! Shut up!” a cop yells. “I’m talking! Okay? I am talking! I am in charge here! This is what’s going to happen. We’re just going to leave your ass alone. And we’re going to write up a Student Contact, and we’re going to the dean of students, and we’re going to kick your ass out of this university. Where you’re going is home. Don’t even bother paying your tuition next semester. Because you’re going.”

Then they apparently walk away, and as they do, Gaddis calls after them. “Good point, guys, good point. Sorry I kicked you out of my room. I just owned you guys. Fuck you guys. You can’t come in my room.”

That’s when the cop comes back, shoves him, and bursts into the room: “I can come in your room, because I’m a university administrator, stud.”

They proceed to search the room while the student continues to mock them.

As of yesterday morning, the video had been watched more than a hundred thousand times on YouTube.

Yesterday afternoon the cop was fired.

On Wednesday, students at Wilberforce University, a small historically black college just outside of Dayton Ohio, gave a demonstration of what student power can mean.

Fed up with the college’s failure to address its longstanding problems, than three hundred of the school’s five hundred enrolled students marched on Wilberforce’s administrative offices to request transfer applications. Some 337 the demonstrators — two thirds of the college’s student body — are said to be prepared to request transfer to nearby Central State University next fall if their demands aren’t met.

The students’ complaints include high tuition, reductions in student services, and unchecked mold in one dormitory.

Founded in 1856, Wilberforce is the oldest private historically black college in the United States. (Many of its earliest students were escaped slaves.) But the college has struggled in recent years, amid charges of mismanagement leveled against top administrators — enrollment has fallen by half in the last seven years, and the institution is tens of millions of dollars in debt.

WU student government president Brandon Harvey, who organized Wednesday’s protest, considers the threat to withdraw a last-ditch effort to save the university. “Academic life, spiritual life and social life are at an all-time low,” he told the Dayton News. “I’m afraid when I come back three to five years from now, Wilberforce University will not be alive.”

Wilberforce president Patricia Lofton Hardaway held a press conference in response to the protest, but made no specific pledges for reform. Students plan to demonstrate again next week when the college’s board of trustees meets at an off-campus location.

The Resident Assistants in the dorms at the University of Massachusetts Amherst are, they say, unique in the country — they’re the only RA’s in the country who are represented by a union.

The Resident Assisants union at U Mass Amherst dates back to 2002, when an RA was fired for missing a single staff meeting, but there have been bumps in the road since then. Most recently Residential Life, the administrative department that oversees the RAs, eliminated 19 Apartment Living Assistant positions and attempted to cut the jobs of another 54 peer mentors.

Right now the Amherst RAs are in the middle of contract negotiations with the university, seeking minimum wage pay and protection against termination without just cause. Those negotiations have been ongoing for more than a year, and last week week fifty Amherst students marched on the contract negotiations, lining the halls outside the meeting room for four hours in support of the RAs’ union representatives.

More on this story as it develops.

December 6 Update | I’ll have more details in a later post, but I’ve just learned that the RAs approved the new contract last night. It provides for a 30% pay increase, and was ratified in an overwhelming vote.

The New Yorker has published a major new article by Ian Parker on the September 2010 death of Rutgers first-year Tyler Clementi. Clementi, targeted by his roommate in a campaign of webcam spying and harassment, killed himself by jumping off the George Washington Bridge. His roommate, Dharun Ravi, will face trial next month on a long list of charges arising from the incident.

The article provides the fullest and clearest account to date of the circumstances that led to Clementi’s suicide, and it’s well worth reading. But it bungles some important elements of the story, and bungles them in ways that serve to obscure important questions.

Here’s a crucial passage debunking the received wisdom about the incident:

“It became widely understood that a closeted student at Rutgers had committed suicide after video of him having sex with a man was secretly shot and posted online. In fact, there was no posting, no observed sex, and no closet.”

Well, sort of.

I wrote about the Clementi suicide on the day it broke, and on a number of occasions afterward, and I don’t particularly recognize this “widely understood” narrative. In fact, each of the three supposed debunkings muddies the waters on complex issues.

First there is the question of whether Clementi was “closeted.” Clearly he was openly gay in some circles. But as Parker himself reports, he had come out to his parents less than a month before he died, just three days before he started school at Rutgers. He had not been out in high school, and Ravi only learned he was gay by uncovering anonymous message board posts associated with Clementi’s email address. “Out” is not a binary concept, and it’s not at all unreasonable to describe Davi’s actions — telling his friends Clementi was gay and posting the news on a public Twitter account — as “outing.”

Second, there’s the question of whether Ravi saw Clementi having sex while he was spying via webcam. Ravi says he didn’t, and there’s no evidence to refute his claim. At the time Ravi boasted on Twitter of having seen Clementi “making out,” and from Parker’s account that does seem like the most accurate description. But to say there was “no observed sex” remains problematic. Setting aside the possibility that Ravi saw more than he claims, the fact is he attempted to spy on Clementi having sex and tweeted that he had caught him in the act.

Immediately after the first incident, Ravi’s friend Molly Wei, who had spied on Clementi with him, IM’ed a friend “OH MY FKING GOD … he’s kissing a guy right now … like THEY WERE GROPING EACH OTHER EWW.” Given that context, the question of how much skin the two saw, and in what exact configuration, seems somewhat beside the point.

Finally, there is the issue of whether the video was “posted online.” Here Parker is on stronger ground, as initial reporting did suggest that the webcam footage was broadcast, when in fact it was not. On the one occasion in which Ravi was successful in spying on Clementi, the stream only went as far as Wei’s dorm room, and was neither distributed nor archived.

But — again, as Parker himself reports — when Clementi asked for the dorm room again days later, Ravi announced on Twitter that he would share the stream with “anyone with iChat” who was reading his feed. Ravi described the event as “a viewing party,” and solicited friends to watch both in person and online. It’s only because Clementi was surreptitiously monitoring Ravi’s Twitter account that he knew to turn off Ravi’s computer before anything could be broadcast that night.

So no, Ravi didn’t share the stream. But he did try to, and he tried to share it widely.

Parker isn’t wrong about any of these things, not exactly. But in each case his rush to correct the record winds up understating Ravi’s bad acts. Even if Clementi wasn’t “closeted,” Ravi still outed him inappropriately, multiple times. Even if Ravi didn’t spy on Clementi having sex, he still violated his privacy by snooping on intimate sexual acts. And if he didn’t broadcast those acts to a wide audience, it wasn’t for a lack of trying.

And Parker’s habit of obscuring through nitpicking extends to the more basic issue of what the hell Ravi was up to in the first place. Parker returns again and again to the question of whether Ravi’s act rises to the level of the bias crime of anti-gay intimidation with which he has been charged, at one point suggesting that the charge represents an “attempt to criminalize teen-age odiousness by using statutes aimed at people more easily recognizable as hate-mongers and perverts.”

But this is a false dichotomy, and a bizarre one. There is no question as to whether Ravi was anti-gay — he expressed his revulsion at Clementi’s orientation repeatedly and gleefully. That this wasn’t the vicious bigotry of the “hate-monger” is hardly a defense of his actions.

What’s obvious from Parker’s reporting, but which seems to have escaped Parker himself, is the particular kind of asshole Ravi is. No, he’s not a hate-fueled homophobe. He’s not a basher or a zealot. He’s just a garden-variety douchebag. He’s the kind of guy who, on learning that his assigned college roommate is gay, posts about it on Twitter along with a link to that roommate’s postings on a gay message board. He’s the kind of guy who tries to trick his friends into installing monitoring software so he can turn their bedroom computers into spycams. He’s the kind of guy who texts his friends to say that he hates poor people and that January is “a gay month.”

Parker thinks his portrayal of Ravi raises hard questions about the government’s prosecution, but I have to admit that I fail to see what those questions are. The qualified defenses he offers for Ravi’s character are ones I addressed in a blogpost the day after this story first broke in 2010, and the lessons I gleaned then are the ones I glean now:

Dharun Ravi acted like a jackass in the first month of his first year of college. He behaved with casual cruelty and lack of concern for Clementi’s well-being. He gave no thought to the consequences of his actions for himself or others. And now Clementi is dead and Ravi’s life is ruined, and there’s no question at all that Ravi set those two calamities in motion.

Dharun Ravi acted like a jackass in the first month of his first year in college, and it ruined his life.

The trial of Dharun Ravi, who as a first-semester Rutgers student in the fall of 2010 allegedly drove his gay roommate to suicide with anti-gay harassment, may be televised on cable.

Ravi is said to have spied on Tyler Clementi twice via webcam while Clementi and another man hooked up in the two students’ dorm room, and to have livestreamed the feed online, encouraging his Twitter followers to tune in. Clementi sought help online and from his RA before committing suicide by jumping off the George Washington bridge a day later.

At a hearing on Friday, neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys raised objections to televising the trial, which is likely to begin in March. The judge in the case indicated that he would allow the broadcast to take place if the camera’s operation was unobtrusive within the courtroom.

About This Blog

n7772graysmall is the work of Angus Johnston, a historian and advocate of American student organizing.

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