Once again, Twitter and social media outlets are aflame this week with images of affluent college students in handcuffs, frat boys face down on the curb, and lecture halls raided. The photos are grim, disturbing, and sad, but not for the reasons that Social Justice Warriors (who are having a field day) would demand we believe.
Yes, reports of SWAT teams careening down the sides of dorm buildings in the dark of night, busting through doors, rounding up co-eds, and ushering them to jail in military-style convoys are without a doubt harrowing and alarming (even worthy of some concern), but their current proliferation once again ignores the larger context of campus life. I find myself in a state of déjà vu, drumming for the umpteenth time the tired beat of reason amid a cacophony of narrow-minded fervor. I’m tired of saying it, but: those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.
The news outlets, celebrities and activists disseminating photos, videos, and anecdotes of college students bleeding in police cars, spread eagle on the quad lawn, or cowering in their common rooms – without addressing the broader social concerns of collegiate life – do a grave disservice to the longstanding plight of our troubled college youth.
At the center of the current maelstrom is the story of Jacob Alhearn, a white Art History major arrested recently for his alleged part in a “massive campus amphetamine ring.” In the course of his arrest (a routine hallway stop), Jacob protested, resisted, and was subsequently subdued and ultimately injured. A lot has been made of Jacob’s wounds (which, it must be noted, are only superficial – most head wounds produce a lot of blood, even for small abrasions, and the fact that Jacob was covered from face to belt in a red gloss is an aesthetic shock rather than a medical dilemma), but these particular concerns serve only to obscure and ignore Jacob’s own culpability in the situation. If we do not acknowledge his role and responsibility, then we have not addressed the problem at the heart of university violence and crime.
The fact of the matter is that Jacob is not a good student. He is, according to teachers and peers, often late to class, only rarely participates, and has a subpar GPA. (His choice to study Art History is a red flag in itself: what should we make of a man pursuing such useless pabulum?) And, like so many other men his age on campuses across the country, he is unemployed, self-entitled, and carrying a long record of previous infractions: open container tickets, public urination, bicycling on the sidewalk, and at least one case of assault (though this never went to court, but was settled instead by internal campus authorities, a rare bit of extreme leniency that those same authorities are no doubt now regretting).
Whether or not police were right to stop him between classes, slam him into a wall, and briefly render him unconscious (leaving aside the issue of whether or not he was maybe carrying enough amphetamines to grievously injure up to two of three of his peers), we have to ask ourselves if Jacob is really the symbol of police brutality that activists want to rally behind. In fact, we have to ask ourselves if police doing their jobs in a harsh environment like the modern university system should be the focus of our national antipathy. What will that accomplish?
There are more important issues at stake.
Namely, personal responsibility. It’s the elephant in the classroom, and we have to talk about it.