By Thuy Vu, KQED NEWSROOM
A special task force looking into race relations at San Jose State University, following a case of racial harassment there, held its first public meeting Thursday. Retired judge LaDoris Cordell chaired the 18-member panel consisting of students and faculty members.
In an interview with “KQED Newsroom” today, Cordell made it clear she’s deeply troubled by what happened. An 18-year-old African American freshman suffered weeks of abuse last fall. The 13 incidents detailed in an independent investigator’s report released this week include claims that four roommates called him racist names, fastened a bicycle lock around his neck and hung a Confederate flag above a window that was visible from the outside.
The abuse wasn’t reported to top school authorities for more than two months. The report concluded that once officials found out, they responded swiftly and properly.
“If all the rules were adhered to and this still went on, there’s a problem,” Cordell said.
Cordell notes the task force will pick up where the fact finder left off, examining school policies and procedures to see what needs to be changed to create a more welcoming environment where all students can thrive.
“Many, many times individuals on the residential hall staff had to go to that suite to deal with issues, yet the red flags they were waving didn’t generate the response they should have,” she said. “We’re going to be looking at the training for resident advisers and the orientation for freshmen. These were freshmen.”
Complicating the matter is that the African American victim asked students not to say anything about the bullying.
“I find it problematic (fellow students) didn’t say anything,” says Cordell. “Their silence led to the abuse continuing, so that’s a concern. What’s the thinking? What’s the mentality? What’s the moral obligation students have?”
The Santa Clara County district attorney has charged the four students with misdemeanors in the case. Cordell believes they should be charged with felonies to send a stronger message.
The task force will meet every two weeks through April and issue its report at the end of that month.
Thuy Vu reported on this story for “KQED Newsroom,” which is a weekly news magazine program on television, radio and online. Watch Fridays at 8 p.m. on KQED Public Television 9, listen on Sundays at 6 p.m. on KQED Public Radio 88.5 FM and watch on demand here.