SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — Three white students at San Jose State University face misdemeanor hate-crime and battery charges after authorities say they harassed a black roommate by outfitting their dormitory suite with a Confederate flag, barricading him in his room, and fastening a bicycle lock around his neck and claiming they lost the key.
Santa Clara County prosecutors filed the charges late Wednesday against Logan Beaschler and Colin Warren, both 18, and Joseph Bomgardner, 19. The young men each face up to a year in jail if convicted.
University President Mohammad Qayoumi said in a statement Thursday that the suspects have been suspended.
The victim, now 18, moved into the four-bedroom suite in August with seven other young men, all of whom are white. The harassment began after all the roommates had attended an orientation that included cultural sensitivity training, the San Jose Mercury News reported.
Prosecutors said the 18-year-old African American student was named “Three-Fifths” by his white roommates as a reference to way the U.S. government, during its early history, counted blacks.
When the freshman protested, they proceeded to call him “Fraction.”
The roommates then allegedly hung a confederate flag in the dorm, wrote the N-word on a dry-erase board and later fastened a bicycle lock around the man’s neck.
The victim’s parents saw the Confederate flag and the dry-erase board with the racial epithet and reported it to housing officials.
In a statement, Deputy District Attorney Erin West said the roommates also decorated the suite with Nazi symbols and photographs of Adolf Hitler.
“We are all victimized when a criminal act targets someone because of their actual or perceived race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sexual orientation, gender or disability,” said West.
Hundreds of students marched on campus Thursday in protest.
“The chain around the young man’s neck. That’s not forgivable to me. That represents the oppression that our people have gone through,” said student Shamari Bell.
Dorm staff were apparently aware even before the parents’ report that the Confederate flag had been placed in a window and had asked the suspects to remove it so it was not visible to the public.
Campus administrators are scrambling to find out how the harassment could go on for months without housing officials or resident advisors being aware.
“It’s distressing,” said VP of Student Affairs Bill Vance. “It’s more than embarrassing. And sad and shocking to see it happen. There’s no question about that.”
The students charged admitted their harassment to the San Jose Mercury News but downplayed the incidents as pranks and denied that they are racists.
Qayoumi, SJSU’s president, announced that the school will re-examine its diversity programs and campus housing safety measures.
“Diversity and a commitment to social justice are in SJSU’s institutional DNA,” he said Thursday, adding, “this deeply disturbing incident reaffirms that we must protect and steward our values.”
University spokeswoman Pat Lopes Harris said the incident was still under investigation.
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