We have been following how universities across the country have seen an increase in claims of “micro aggressions” and impermissible “cultural appropriation” (here and here). Now that tension has become physical at San Francisco State University after student Bonita Tindle reportedly attacked a white student named Cory Goldstein for wearing dreadlocks. The claim seems to capture the race to bottom on campuses where an ever widening array of words or symbols are declared racially or culturally insensitive. However, this was so bizarre, I checked to confirm that it was not an early April Fool’s joke. Yet, various news organizations are reporting it and a YouTube video shows the attack.
The incident occurred at SFSU’s Cesar Chavez Student Center and on the clip below Goldstein asks
“You’re saying I can’t have a hairstyle because of your culture? Why?”
Tindle responds “Because it’s my culture.”
After arguing further, Goldstein is heard to say: “You know what, girl, you have no right to tell me what I can and cannot wear.” When he then tries to walk away, Tindle grabs Goldstein’s arm and a minor scuffle ensues. This would be far more compelling a case of battery than the recent flap over the Trump campaign manager video. In this case, Tindle is shown grabbing the camera or cellphone of the witness.
Here is the videotape:
Goldstein posted an Facebook statement that he was not going to file criminal charges but “I did file a formal campus police report and I decided to let the education system deal with her”.
Here is his later statement:
Now this would seem to be an easy case. A student is attacked for his appearance and then a second student is attacked for filming the attack. Yet, here is the university statement:
“We are aware of the video made of an incident which occurred on campus yesterday afternoon. University police were called to the scene of the incident when it occurred. The two individuals involved in the incident are not San Francisco State University employees. Further, no criminal charges have been pressed at this time to the University’s knowledge.
San Francisco State University promotes the rights of the campus community to engage in free speech, but does not condone behavior that impedes the safety or well-being of others. We are taking the matter seriously and will promptly and thoroughly investigate this incident through applicable University channels, including our campus student conduct procedures.”
Whether either of these individuals are employees or whether criminal charges were filed is irrelevant. If they are students or use school facilities, the university has an obligation to act. Some have already objected that the response would have been different if a black student was harassed over wearing dreadlocks and then assaulted. I have searched to find a more direct response of the university, such as suspending Tindle pending the completion of the investigation. I could find nothing.
By the way, I am not sure such culture is being appropriated here in Tindle’s mind. Kouros sculptures from Ancient Greece show men with dreadlocks as did ancient Christian Ascetics and pre-Columbian Aztec priests. They also appear in ancient Hindu pictures as well as the Sufi followers of Islam.
I do not want to see criminal charges against Tindle for such an incident even though it would meet the definition of battery. I have long been critical of the criminalization of such incidents which can be addressed at the university level. However, this does not mean that I do not view this as extremely serious. Universities are supposed to be forums for free speech as well as places for experimentation and exposure for students to a broader array of ideas and groups. This type of intolerance and physical harassment denies a basic and essential element of the educational environment.
Heavy.com reports that ” Tindle has deleted her LinkedIn page. She described herself on that site as a “Cinematographer, Photographer, Editor, Journalist, Media Specialist.” The Golden Gate Xpress, an independent news site for the school, reports that Tindle is a photography student at SFSU and is a “media intern for Associated Students, Inc.” It is a bit unnerving to see an aspiring journalist in such a physical confrontation. Notably, her roommate said that she was not surprised at all by the video given Tindle’s “passion, and social justice, and black power, and everything.”
The university will only say that it is continuing to investigate the matter. That is certainly appropriate and I do not expect a resolution. I am surprised that we have not seen a more direct condemnation of the actions shown on the video and the suspension of the attacker (and possible barring from campus) pending a final outcome of the investigation.