Immediate dismissal?

By on November 19, 2008

When I was a freshman here at Quinnipiac, a friend returned to his room in Irma to find a racial slur scrawled on his door. The person who wrote it was never caught. My sophomore year, more racial slurs were found written in Ledges. Once again, the cowards got away with it. The student body was largely left in the dark about the specifics of the incidents.

This year, however, when the nature of the crimes escalated to include actual threats, the school has been almost entirely forthcoming in the details of what happened. Every year I have been a student here, racial incidents have occurred, and the school has faced criticism for trying to sweep them under the rug – except this year. Not only were we informed about what happened, we were informed when the alleged perpetrators were arrested and who they were. Numerous e-mails were sent to the student body as more information became available; the administration seemed determined to not repeat past mistakes and face more ridicule.

We were told the suspects had been arrested, were being held on bail, faced a list of charges and had been immediately dismissed from the University. I think most students breathed a sigh of relief, grateful the students responsible had been kicked out, hopeful that nothing like that would ever happen again. And then the rumors started.
Unless you are a hermit, you have probably heard the whispers circulating that the students arrested and expelled did not actually have anything to do with the racial incidents. Charles Merritt, the freshman charged with the most crimes, lived with two of the students who were targeted. According to his friends and hall-mates, Merritt is not guilty.

“I know it wasn’t Chuck who did it because he was in the room when the call was received,” Christopher Haspilaire, a freshman who lives in Merritt’s former hallway, said. “And also when the basketball players came back to campus figuring the racial incidents were over, his Facebook account was hacked leaving messages saying ‘I’m the hotel man,’ ‘you three shouldn’t come back to QU,’ etc.”
Clearly, the school’s case against Merritt is not air-tight.

The other two students expelled, sophomores Emily LoSchiavo and Courtney Stellwag, were charged with disorderly conduct, first-degree harassment, and first-degree conspiracy to commit harassment. If the rumors are true, all that these girls did was prank call random rooms saying “seven days,” a famous line from the 2002 film “The Ring.” Anyone who has seen the movie knows that this is nothing racial. It was simply bad luck and poor judgment that the girls chose that night to make the calls, around the time racial threats through phone calls were being made. It was immature and childish, yes, but it certainly doesn’t warrant immediate expulsion.

These racial incidents year after year have definitely been embarrassing for Quinnipiac. But embarrassment does not justify what has happened. The administration was so desperate to appear like they were on top of it – that they were actually doing something – that they expelled innocent students without just cause. In the e-mails sent out to students, they seemed to be proud that the students were immediately dismissed. But doesn’t that sound odd? Immediately dismissed – was there no questioning, no chance for the girls to explain themselves?

I attended the discussion about the incidents in Buckman Theater, and I heard President John Lahey speak. He reiterated his mantra that hateful students are not welcome in this community. But there was no mention of the rumors. He never addressed what many students believe – that the students expelled were innocent.

In the case of LoSchiavo and Stellwag, I think it is clear that their actions did not justify expulsion. They were simply victims of timing – in the wrong place at the wrong time. How many of us have placed prank phone calls in our lives? It was juvenile fun, nothing that ever warranted jail time. Merritt has the support of many friends, friends who swear that he is innocent.

Where is the university’s response?
If the rumors are true, and the university jumped at the chance to nail someone for all their problems, regardless of actual guilt; if the school was so desperate to make those problems go away that they expelled innocent students without first checking the facts – then Quinnipiac’s issues run far deeper than we all thought. We students deserve to live on this campus without the fear of discriminatory attacks, and without the fear of unlawful persecution by our own administration.


About Elizabeth Johnston