John Robinson / Campus Anti-war.net – 2005-12-07 08:41:12
Political Repression and the Hampton Model
Heavy-Handed Repression of Recent Student Activism
John Robinson and Brandon King / Campus Anit-war.net
(November 25, 2005) — On Wednesday November 2, 2005 at Hampton University, the progressive campus group affiliated with Amnesty International, United Students Against Sweatshops, and Campus Anti-War Network held a student walk-out on the issues of New Orleans urban renewal, AIDS crisis, homophobia, the prison-industrial complex, the war in Iraq, and the crisis in Sudan.
The organizers for the group had been planning the action for sometime, and promoted it with radio announcements, posters around the campus, and handing out fliers at campus group meetings. The planned activities included speeches, chants, poetry, and musical performances.
Earlier that day an international student was subjected to intense interrogation by the Dean of Women and was told by the Hampton University police that she would be shadowed by a cop. At twelve noon Brandon King began to speak to about 75-100 students in the Student Center about our plans for the day. We handed out information on the Iraq war and the Katrina disaster. Then armed HU police abruptly shut down our activities.
The HU police booked several people just because they were wearing stickers and other paraphernalia that advertised our events. They booked people who weren’t even wearing paraphernalia because they looked suspicious.
The police used hand-held camcorders to record the faces of the activists without our permission. They attempted to intimidate the student onlookers by their random targeting. Three of us were singled out as leaders by the Dean of Men and HU police, who temporarily confiscated our students ID cards.
The next day, one leader of our group, Brandon King, was told by a Hampton University Lieutenant Detective that, despite the fact that he was a “hometown athlete,” he would be expelled if he did not cooperate and give up the names of other group members.
Now Brandon, three sophomore activists, a junior activist, a non-affiliated supporter and myself have all been summoned to an administrative hearing for violating the code of student conduct by “actions to cajole or proselytize students”, “distributing and/or posting unauthorized information”, and “violating the administrative guidelines for student demonstrations”.
The students were given notice at 5:00 p.m. Friday, November 18 to appear at an administrative hearing at 10:00 a.m. Monday, November 21. This short notice obviously made it virtually impossible for the students to organize support from lawyers, parents, witnesses, other students, and sympathetic organizations both on campus and in the wider community.
Nevertheless, the administration received many calls and e-mails and agreed on Monday morning to postpone the hearings indefinitely. Upon returning to school from thanksgiving break on Monday November 28, the students learned that the hearings had been rescheduled for Friday, December 2.
Students Not Expelled! …But Fight Not Over
John Robinson / Campus Anti-war.net
(December 3, 2005) — Hampton University students faced disciplinary hearings on December 2, 2005 at 9:00 am in the Student Center cyber lounge. As I arrived I immediately noticed bands of protesters already picketing right outside the University.
By the time the six other students and I met with the parents and lawyers in front of the room that the hearing was to be held, there were already over 20 student supporters standing right outside the door.
As we made last-minute preparations to our cases, students continued to pour into the student center. At about 9:20 the parents, character witnesses, students, and administrators began to enter the room. After everyone was seated, the Dean of Men and Dean of Women outlined the rules of the hearing for everyone in attendance. They told everyone that the only question-asking would be done by the administration.
Students did not have the ability to question the shabby evidence presented against them and instead had to rely on the word of the campus detective relating to what was actually on the video footage. This was despite the hearing notice given to the students that suggested the students would have the opportunity to both present a case and have substantiation for any evidence put forth by the administration.
The administrators then decided to sequester the seven students and question them individually. They allowed only the pre-selected family, lawyers, and character witnesses to come in the students. The hearing ultimately amounted to not much more than a formal interrogation.
Shortly after the hearing had commenced it became abundantly clear that Hampton University was no longer in control. As was mentioned before, the Administration’s case was extremely weak. The administrators seemed nervous as they listened to the chief lieutenant clumsily describe the one piece of footage that he had an opportunity to view and that he elected not to present.
But things only got worse from there for the Administration as the lawyers exposed the unfairness of the Administrative Hearing process itself. Also the parents were strongly in support of their children and nearly every one lashed out at the administration at some point. The parents made good points about the procedural injustices inherent in Hampton’s administrative hearings.
The objections made were met by the blank, clueless stares of administrators, and following that, irrational rebuttals. The parents and lawyers succeeded in making the administrators implicitly admit that the decisions being made were completely arbitrary and in no way adhered to any conceivable standards of fairness.
Students and people from the community came out in numbers. As discontent among the parents continued to mount, more and more students stood in front of the door wearing paraphernalia that blatantly revealed that they were in support of the student activists, and more people grabbed pickets and duct tape and joined the free speech demonstration.
They put the duct tape over there mouths and wrote the words “free speech” on their faces. They held signs demanding free speech for the students and imploring the cars driving by to “honk if they agree”. They applauded the students for promoting education on issues that so deeply affect the students at the school as well as black people everywhere.
By 12:00 noon it was all over the local news stations. The administrators seemed flustered and nervous as they had to continually defend the legitimacy of their Kangaroo Court. It was so obvious that Hampton was a lot more accustomed to handling things in ways that were unapologetically authoritarian and not subject to many of the rules we take for granted. They only knew how to use naked force. They were not used to the “checks and balances” that the people themselves imposed on Hampton.
This caused the proceedings to degenerate to a series of dramatic power trips.
The students watching the hearing through the glass witnessed the Dean of Students, who was supposed to have no part in the hearing, angrily march from his seat in the back to the front of the room, and threaten to throw out a professor who spoke as a character witness for the students.
His argument was that saying what he had never known the student to do was not a witness of character. The lawyer noted how absurd the Dean’s objection was. The administrative panel also threw one of the fathers of the students out of the hearing, and threatened to throw out another student’s mother, and one of the lawyers.
The administrators were incredibly rude to students and parents alike, instinctively telling them to “shut up” and threatening to dismiss them. Meanwhile, outside the hearing, the police carried out the authoritarian practices of the school on the student supporters.
There were police EVERYWHERE and they confiscated the posters and film of students with reckless abandon. A student DJ who supports the activists attempted to play music in the student center, something that happens nearly everyday, and he was promptly stopped by a university official fearing the music would further embolden the students.
At the beginning of the hearing, we were told that we would not receive verdicts that day and we shouldn’t expect them before the next 1-2 days. However after the strong show of support by the students and community, the university decided to have the verdict ready mere hours after the hearing had finished.
The Hampton seven was called into the office of the Dean of Men and Dean of Women, and for an hour we watched the school officials scurry around frantically to get the letters typed and hopefully make this bad dream go away. The students were not expelled. To save face, the university imposed 20 hours of “community service” on most of the involved students.
This is an illegitimate punishment for legitimate protest. It also represents the administration having to back down from its most draconian threats in the face of opposition. But this bad dream will linger, and the students will continue to fight, at least until Hampton University changes its policy and practices toward progressive thought among students and faculty.
On December 2, Hampton University looked like I’ve never seen it look before. The students, it seemed, realized that this was not a fight for the Hampton seven but a fight for the student body. More importantly they realized that they themselves could fight to make Hampton and the world a better place.
Students, who only days ago wouldn’t sign a petition because they feared harsh repercussion, now boldly stood in the defense of the activists against campus police. Teachers who were previously silenced by the privacy obligations of the school now spoke to their students in class and urged them to become involved.
Black students from other schools became more involved in the antiwar struggle at their own schools. Students from Howard University, an HBCU in Washington D.C., came down to stand in solidarity with us and brought with them 912 signatures from Howard students gathered in just 2 days. The students at Hampton for the first time saw students stand up against the university, and they saw the university do all it could to back down.
At the end of the hearing, the Dean of Men could not restrain himself from questioning me about the article “Corporate Plantation”. Before I had a chance to answer, the Dean of Students interjected that it was not appropriate. I have no doubt that if the school was not being so closely watched, that line of questioning would have went much further. But the student movement showed its strength and resilience.
The students at Hampton greatly appreciate the many people who joined with them in this struggle against this repressive administration. We showed them something they had not saw in a long time. However the school intends to downplay the event so the controversy will go away. The atmosphere will probably become worse after that as they will do all they can to prevent activists from doing anything especially now that they can identify several. That means that even though we were victorious in this particular battle, the fight goes on.
The school in the past weeks, just as it has done frequently in the past on a more or less arbitrary basis, has declared a moratorium on students groups. It simply cannot that easy for the school to prevent students from having the ability to organize, peaceably assemble, and discuss issues that affect them. This must be resisted.
The student activists at Hampton concern themselves primarily with interpersonal on-the-ground organizing. Through this we aim to spread the political consciousness to black students that the educational program of Hampton has refused them. Hampton’s practices provide evidence that what was true 80 years ago, remains true today. Assertive political activity among Black Americans is viewed as doubly blasphemous, and as such is met with the harshest repression.
We will not heed the advise of detractors who say that if we don’t like the school we should transfer. We know that we are here for a reason and we have a responsibility to our brothers and sisters both student and non-student to serve the community as best we can.
The actions of the administration has made Hampton’s campus fertile ground for social activism. We must capitalize on that and demand a comprehensive change in practice and policy relating to progressive thought.
This is not merely a free speech issue. With what many call the largest urban renewal project in American history happening in New Orleans, it is vital that these issues be central to general political discourse, especially among African Americans.
Black students have infinite potential, but the program of Hampton as well as elitist ideology everywhere, MUST be counteracted. In recognizing the rising repression at other schools against students and professors we necessarily consider this battle in the context of the larger struggle against empire and war.
This fight ultimately bolstered black student involvement in the student movement, and so long as black students are able to organize on the ground there will be many more. Let us continue our fight and make the change we know is possible.
John Robinson is one of the students charged for peaceful protest at Hampton University. You can contact him and the other students at firstname.lastname@example.org or for ongoing updates — on this case and another case of repression brewing at UW Madison — see http://www.campusantiwar.net/