ACLU, Reverend Jarrett Maupin Ask That ASU Not Expel Students at "MLK Black Party"
The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona and local Reverend Jarrett Maupin both have asked that ASU not expel students who attended an "MLK Black Party" hosted last week by fraternity members.
The ACLU has chimed in saying the students' actions are protected under the First Amendment, while Maupin, in a separate statement, now admits he erred in calling for the students to be expelled from ASU.
ASU administrators permanently revoked the recognition of Tau Kappa Epsilon as a fraternity last week, after photos surfaced of an "MLK Black Party," on the King holiday, in which the attendees were dressed in basketball jerseys and bandannas, threw up gang signs, and used a hollowed-out watermelon as a drinking vessel.
Maupin, a local black activist, held a press conference on the ASU campus in Downtown Phoenix, calling for the students to be expelled. He's since changed his mind.
"We cannot call for the academic destruction of those blinded by bigotry or ignorance," he says. "We must find the strength, despite our anger and rage, to restore their sight that they might see intellectually and socially that all people are equal and made in the image of God."
Maupin continues, "We are our brothers' keepers, so let me be the first to vouch for the fools. I demand second chances for them all. I am rescinding my demand that Arizona State University expel any students connected with the infamously immoral masquerade -- though, I fear people on both sides of this issue will crucify me for it."
On this issue, Maupin's not quite on the same page as Michael Meyers, the head of the New York Civil Rights Coalition, who's also black. The two had a something of a war of words last week, as Meyers argued that the students shouldn't be punished. The two don't agree on whether the TKE party was racist, but Meyers didn't think the students should have been punished at all. Maupin's still calling for some punishment.
Immediately after the party, an ASU spokeswoman told New Times that the University "can and will take additional action against the individuals involved," but there's been no additional word on that.
ACLU of Arizona legal director Don Pochoda also implored the University not to take action against individual students, despite how tasteless the party was.
"It is well established that governmental retaliation based on disagreement with students' words or messages is antithetical to the fundamental protections of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution," Pochoda wrote in a letter to ASU President Michael Crow. "It is easy for governmental bodies, including public universities, to allow speech and expression that it favors. History demonstrates that coercive governmental powers are primarily aimed at minority and unpopular views. The test of our constitutional protections is whether they will be heeded when faced with distasteful, or even hateful, statements."
Crow, in his only public statement on the matter, floated the idea of disciplinary action against the students:
" . . . the ASU Student Code of Conduct sets forth the standards of conduct expected of students who choose to join our university community. At ASU, students who violate these standards will be subject to disciplinary sanctions in order to promote their own personal development, to protect the university community, and to maintain order and stability on our campuses."
In his 1963 "Letter from a Birmingham Jail", the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. asked a poignant and relevant question that can still guide us to the moral high-ground: "Will we be extremists for hate or for love?"
In the outrage over racist "MLK Black Party" linked to the now-defunct ASU chapter of Tau Kappa Epsilon, extremists emerged -- extremists for activism, extremists for inaction, extremists for unbridled speech, extremists for consequences. And on social media, all hell broke loose.
As I reflected on a week of extremes and extremists, I began to pray about what was best for the students caught up in this moral failure. I began to think less about what was good for civil rights and more about what was good for them. I remembered a time when I was most in need of mercy, as they are now. A major misstep and a moment when a stupid mean-spirited mistake caused me, like these youths, to stumble blindly down one of life's Damascene roads. I was blinded like Paul, an extremist, and memory of my own need for a healing from a merciful "Ananias" inspired me to act.
We cannot call for the academic destruction of those blinded by bigotry or ignorance. We must find the strength, despite our anger and rage, to restore their sight that they might see intellectually and socially that all people are equal and made in the image of God. That the inherent worth and dignity of individuals of color is indisputable because we are humans. That the concept of humanity, to paraphrase King, makes us all "inextricably intertwined" and responsible to and for each other.
We are our brothers' keepers, so let me be the first to vouch for the fools. I demand second chances for them all. I am rescinding my demand that Arizona State University expel any students connected with the infamously immoral masquerade -- though, I fear people on both sides of this issue will crucify me for it.
That is not to say that my first demand, ASU's expulsion of TKE was not the Kingian thing to do. It absolutely was. I admire ASU President Michael Crow for his bold and swift defense of the legacy of MLK, the dignity and humanity of Black people, and for enforcing his university's zero-tolerance for discrimination and racism. And it doesn't mean I believe my third demand, developing policy and programmatic changes to incorporate long-term racial sensitivity training, is any less needed or serious.
King's letter talks about Jesus Christ, who is described as "an extremist for love, truth, goodness and who thereby rose above his environment." The preacher closed a thought with the idea that "the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists."
This dilemma calls for creative extremists. I can think of no greater extreme action than to chance the ruin of my reputation, the loss of Black peoples' patience, and risk ASU becoming America's latest laughingstock if this new mercy mission is misguided.
So let the second demand be met, let discipline be meted out -- suspensions, sanctions, required diversity and ethnic studies classes. But also let truth and reconciliation talks begin. Let creative extremism guide us in the high-calling of civil rights work, inspire us to keep building a "New American University" free of racism, to embrace and affirm diversity, and transform ASU into MLK's vision of a "beloved community."
Students, this is your mountaintop-moment, don't fail us or yourselves.
The Rev. Jarrett Maupin is a Phoenix-based Baptist minister and civil rights activist.
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