Earlier this year, after buildings around Ohio’s Oberlin College campus were defaced with anti-Semitic and racist graffiti and signs, college administrators chose to cancel classes for a day and hold a “day of solidarity” event meant to highlight the student community’s support for those singled out by the alleged vandals.
However, this week the story got a lot more complicated after the Daily Caller, along with Legal Insurrection, reported that the people responsible for the offensive signs weren’t, in fact, targeting campus minorities. Instead, the person who confessed to defacing the buildings and Black History Month posters said their intent was to provoke a reaction from the campus authorities – none of the actions were motivated by actual animus against racial or ethnic minority groups.
In other words, it was a hoax. And one of the most puzzling things about it was that even as students and campus staff reacted to what they thought was a real outbreak of bigotry, campus authorities knew it wasn’t real and kept the information concealed.
Cornell’s William A. Jacobson writing for Legal Insurrection blog explains:
It all turns out this was a hoax perpetrated by two progressive students on campus.
Chuck Ross of The Daily Caller obtained the police report through a public records and identifies the two students who admitted to doing most, if not all, of the graffiti and signs as a hoax to get a reaction from campus.
The Daily Caller identifies the two culprits as Dylan Bleier and Matt Alden.
Bleier was an Obama supporter, as shown in an event link found by The Daily Caller. His LinkedIn profile (which now has been taken down) reflects his politics.
At the time the scandal broke, Jacobson and conservative firebrand Michelle Malkin – herself an Oberlin alumna – raised the possibility that the entire incident was a hoax and condemned what they saw as Oberlin’s and media’s gross overreaction. But they were hardly the only ones. The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf also wrote at the time that canceling classes was going too far.
While Friedersdorf said that it was possible the entire thing was a simply a stunt to provoke a reaction rather than an genuine expression of hatred in order to intimidate the students, he said the school’s reaction was wrong-headed regardless.
As noted, I also thought the decision to cancel classes was mistaken, and it never made sense to label an unknown actor’s institutionally condemned acts as “institutional bigotry,” but white privilege? White kids spreading the n-word and Nazi flags around campus for kicks, without giving a damn how many minorities they scare or upset, does seem like a great example of white privilege!
Professor William A. Jacobson of Cornell Law School writes, “School officials and local police knew the identity of the culprits, who were responsible for most if not all of such incidents on campus, yet remained silent as the campus reacted as if the incidents were real.” If true, that’s shameful. But again, I don’t know that “reacted as if the incidents were real” is the right way to phrase it. The incidents were real. Offensive material was in fact strewn about. The way I’d put it is that Oberlin students had a right to know that the perpetrators weren’t motivated by Nazi or KKK ideology.