Academic Trompe l’Oeil

Escaping Victimhood

I never miss an issue of Inside Higher Ed. It’s one of my go-to sources, along with The Chronicle of Higher Education, for updates on the latest misbehaving academic. Of all the miscreants covered in the pages of these august journals, a select few warrant special scorn: the students, faculty, and occasionally the staff who perform guerrilla acts of trompe l’oeil to call attention to the pain they experience as victims of–well, you name it: racism, sexism, classism, anti-[fill in the blank]ism…the list goes on.

New Entry: May 1, 2013 There ought to be some kind of award for the stunt of Meg Lanker-Simons hoax: she posted a threat against herself on a Facebook site frequented by students at the University of Wyoming, of which she is one. She embellished the threat by making sure it read as if it were written by a conservative–or, at least, her idea of what a conservative sounds like. Read all about it in the presciently named Laramie Boomerang. Pay special attention to the readers’ comments, where Mrs. Lanker-Simons–before her outing as the perp–waxes eloquent about her suffering.

I had planned someday to get around to compiling an all-star list of these “victims,” as they portray themselves, so imagine my envy and dismay when Inside Higher Ed beat me to it. This summer (2012) IHE performed a valuable public service by listing various “hoax hate crimes” that have been perpetrated on US campuses in the last decade. The list is reprinted below, but before we dive in, I challenge my faithful readers to share stories of academic trompe l’oeil from their own campuses so that we can add to IHE’s inventory. I’ll print the best submissions (crediting the source, or not, as you prefer), and together we can keep a running tally.

From IHE:

February 2012, Montclair State U.
Two black roommates are arrested on charges of false reporting, criminal mischief and disorderly conduct a week after they told authorities someone slipped a racist, sexist message under their door. They wrote it.

February 2012, U. of Wisconsin-Parkside
A black student confesses to writing racial threats that included a hit list of students. The notes prompted heightened security and several campus meetings.

July 2012, Central Connecticut State U.
Student Alexandra Pennell receives hate letters for being a lesbian. Authorities investigating the case find the student sent the letters to herself.

April 2011, U. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Student Quinn Matney files a false police report saying he was branded with hot metal because he was gay; officials later find he made up the story.

March 2011, U. of Virginia
Student Johnathan Perkins makes up a story about police harassment in the form of racial profiling.

November 2007, George Washington U.
A hidden camera catches student Sarah Marshak drawing swastikas on her dorm room door after she reported multiple incidents of the vandalism. Marshak maintained she only drew the last few in a series of swastikas, to highlight the university’s inaction.

April 2005, Trinity International U.
An unidentified student posts threatening notes to minority students so her parents would let her leave the university.

Of all the strange fruit borne by the groves of academe, hoaxes perpetrated in the name of victimhood are perhaps the most rotten. I say this with sadness, because in many cases I really do believe that the perpetrators–especially young black men and women–are driven to commit these acts of self-hatred because their psyches could no longer accommodate the cognitive dissonance required to fulfill the roles assigned them by the faculty who teach them that “race, class, and gender” hatred is the root of all evil.

The middle-class black who grew up with parents who expected her to do her homework, who vacationed on the Vineyard, who from an early age learned to appreciate the differences between the lusty hot Ella Fitzgerald and the cool yet yearning Sarah Vaughn had to sit in an introductory sociology class to learn for the first time that she is among the oppressed. Worse, she isn’t given the chance to absorb the new identity: faculty expect her to “represent her race” for the white students in class, whose parents are paying a pretty penny so that their darling Eggberts can experience “diversity” in the antiseptic environment of the precious yet liberal campus to which they have sent them packing.

Then there is the not-quite-prepared-for-college student from the hood who’s been awarded a full scholarship by a second- or third-tier college eager to score in the race to diversify. He may be grateful that he will not have to worry about the crippling debt his “more fortunate” peers will face come graduation, and he may want to make his mother proud by studying hard and earning his degree. Or, he might simply want to focus on taking advantage of the panoply of services offered by his campus in order to help fill the gaps in his K-12 education. None of this will come to pass, however, if he is swept away by the roiling tide of instruction in race and class theory the faculty will baptize him in so that he will emerge a fully fledged victim of oppression. If he is strong, he’ll resist the faculty’s efforts to exploit the “authenticity” of his blackness. If he is not, then a KKK scratched on his dorm door (situated no doubt in one of those serene campuses tucked away in a small New England town, where rednecks lurk and race-based violence is the locals idea of fun on a Saturday night) will document his victimhood.

Surprisingly, for many–but not all–of the students who pull these stunts I feel a shred of sympathy. But for the grown-ups who do, I have nothing but contempt. To wit, the antics of 33-year-old Charlie Rogers, a former collegiate basketball star:

Rogers said three masked men broke into her home, and that one of them pinned her down while another sliced a cross into her chest, cut the front of her thighs and shins and carved derogatory words in her arms and abdomen. She said they then rolled her onto her stomach and cut her buttocks, the back of her thighs and the back of her right calf. She also said they tried to burn down her house.

Rogers crawled from her home naked, bleeding and screaming for help, a neighbor told police. The community’s gay community responded swiftly, and hundreds turned out for a rally that weekend outside the state Capitol.

Horrific, isn’t it? Well, it would be if it had actually happened. But it didn’t:

[P]olice found a pile of clothes, white knit gloves and a red box cutter on the living room floor after the alleged attack. Rogers said the gloves didn’t belong to her, but investigators determined that a lot of the DNA found inside the glove was Rogers’ and that none of it came from a male.

[Lincoln, Nebraska Chief of Police Jim] Peschong said investigators discovered that Rogers deleted numerous text messages she had sent the evening of the alleged attack, and that she bought cotton gloves, a box cutter and zip ties from an Ace Hardware Store in Lincoln on July 17. All of the items were later found in her house, he said. When confronted about the evidence weeks later, he said, Rogers admitted to purchasing all of the items except the gloves.

She also sent a photo of a cross-shaped cut on her chest to a friend a few days before the reported attack, Peschong said.

Investigators say they found no apparent sign of a struggle in the living room where Rogers said she was attacked, and no blood on the sheets where the cutting allegedly took place. An FBI forensic pathologist concluded that Rogers either cut herself, or allowed someone else to do it.

Peschong said the department spent thousands of dollars investigating the case, but he stressed that the case will not undermine the department’s trust in people who report hate crimes.

Don’t you love a happy ending?

One thought on “Academic Trompe l’Oeil

  1. Pingback: An New Entry for Academic Trompe L’Oeil? Racial Slurs in UCLA Johns « Call Me "Miss"!

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