WVBU incident results in expulsion of three students

Madeline Diamond, News Editor

The news that three University students had been suspended and subsequently expelled for racist and violent language on a WVBU radio broadcast has garnered national media attention over the past week. The University has joined the media discussion of institutions of higher education dealing with incidents involving hate speech on campus.

Visiting Assistant Professor of History Jennifer Thomson received a call from David Sprout, a paralegal from the Lewisburg Prison Project, regarding a letter he received from an inmate who expressed concern about racist comments made on a WVBU broadcast on March 20. The Lewisburg Prison Project is a non-profit organization that provides legal counsel to prisoners in Central Pennsylvania, including those at the United States Penitentiary, Lewisburg, which is about 4.5 miles from campus. Sprout has previously been a guest on Thomson’s own WVBU show, “Bucknell: Occupied.”

“[Sprout] had said that he wanted to talk to me about a letter they had received, which had some very racist content in it, and then he read me the letter. In the letter, the inmate reported that he had been listening to the radio on Friday, March the 20, and sometime between 8:30 and 9 p.m., had heard three statements made,” Thomson said.

“[The letter] was enough, for me, to raise concern,” Sprout said in an interview with The Bucknellian.

Thomson then notified Student Media Advisor James Lee about the incident, who then reported it to the administration. According to Assistant Vice President of Communications Andy Hirsch, the violent language and racial slurs were used during the WVBU student-radio broadcast “Happy Times” near the end of the 8 p.m. hour. The “Happy Times” radio show has since been removed from the WVBU schedule. Lee declined to comment on the incident due to confidentiality reasons.

Over the past week, local media has had a presence on campus, interviewing students about their reactions to the incident. Emma Downey ’18 was interviewed on-camera by WNEP reporter Clay LePard this week.

“I also emailed him asking if he’d be interested in getting a different side of the story and meeting with students off campus to talk about the issue, and he was,” Downey said.

In addition to the radio comments from March 20, Public Safety responded to reports of vandalism including racial slurs in two classrooms in Coleman Hall, a wall in the International Commons in Coleman, and a hallway in Vaughan Literature. The comments were written on chalkboards and dry erase boards, according to Operations Captain of Public Safety Douglas Lauver. According to President John Bravman, the comments were written in quotation marks, possibly in an attempt to share the content of the broadcast before Bravman released the remarks via email.

Although three students have already been expelled, the University is still conducting an investigation in regard to other students who were present during the broadcast.

“There are still facts to find and interviews to be held,” Bravman said when asked about the state of the ongoing investigation.

As for the three students who were expelled, Bravman said that University officials spoke with the students after he was informed about the incident on March 26 and the decision about their expulsion was made on March 30. Bravman said that he expects the remaining investigation to conclude within one or two weeks.

“It is clear to me that this is not an isolated incident. Racism exists on campuses across the country and, in fact, throughout society,” Bravman said in his March 30 update email to students, faculty and staff.

Bravman revealed the content of the broadcast that prompted the investigation and expulsion. Bravman has communicated with the campus community about student conduct incidents in the past, including an email he sent last December regarding the hateful and violent content posted on the social media application Yik Yak.

The transcription from the WVBU broadcast reads, “Student 1: ‘[N——],’ Student 2: ‘Black people should be dead,’ Student 3: ‘Lynch ‘em!’”

“This is a problem, and we have to stop ducking it,” Bravman said when asked about his reasoning behind sharing the violent language of the comments.

Bravman has kept in contact with the campus community since the incident through his emails and forums held on March 31 and April 1.

“For the President to write to the whole University is a rare event … I’m hoping what we find [during the investigation] does not rise to the level that presidential communication is required,” Bravman said.

In an interview with The Bucknellian, Bravman referenced the University’s Five-Year Diversity Plan, which he says the University has put in action to address diversity on campus. He also acknowledged his support for the student-led event sponsored by the Bucknell Student Government (BSG) and the Black Student Union (BSU) that will be held on April 14, stating that “peer-to-peer” interactions are important to create change.

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