Expulsion is a Proper Sanction for the Colin Kaepernick Costume

By Jessica Smith ’18 , Guest Writer

As the Dickinson community continues to process the recent Halloween incident involving a white student dressing up as Colin Kaepernick, complete with black face and a gun pointed at his head [Editor’s Note: this claim cannot be confirmed from the picture in question], I am calling for the expulsion of said student. While this response may seem severe to some, it’s rooted in the purported mission of our college, espoused by our founders.

Tuta libertas. Those were the words that John Dickinson used to describe Dickinson College at its inception. Tuta libertas — “A bulwark of liberty.” This sentiment can also be seen on our college seal, designed by John Dickinson and Benjamin Rush, which features a liberty cap, a telescope, and an open Bible, meant to “represent a mission that has been ingrained in Dickinson College for nearly 225 years: to offer students a useful and progressive education in the arts and sciences, an education grounded in a strong sense of civic duty to become citizen-leaders.”

With popular TV shows like Dear White People and popular magazines like Teen Vogue covering issues of offensive Halloween costumes and blackface, it seems difficult to imagine how an 18-year-old student who attends Dickinson College in 2017, with internet access, did not understand that blackface is meant to be offensive. It seems fair to say that this issue is predominant in popular culture, and someone who is socially aware enough to know of Colin Kaepernick and his protests is likely to know about the history and current context of blackface. Therefore, I take this student’s costume to mean that his intent was to offend.

His racism in this way, then, does not operate as ignorance. As not yet having had the opportunity to self-correct. His costume was premeditated and reflects his personal belief that Americans who are black are not entitled to their constitutional rights of free speech and peaceful protest [Editor’s Note: there is no evidence that confirms this claim regarding the student in the picture’s personal beliefs]. His actions are in direct and egregious conflict with Dickinson’s current community standards, as well as the philosophical and moral principles the college was allegedly founded upon.

Under U.S. law, premeditation is grounds for a more severe form of punishment for many crimes. A Halloween costume denotes clear premeditation: we might imagine this student having to first come up with the idea, then secure the #7 jersey, the wig, and the brown makeup for blackface [Editor’s Note: this claim cannot be confirmed from the picture in question], all before willfully dressing himself and finally heading out the door for a night of festivities. In no way can this be construed as a hasty act of poor judgement, then.

It’s clear that this student has broken numerous community standards and expectations for conduct as outlined in the school handbook, including, but not limited to, discriminatory conduct, harm to others and disruptive conduct. These are the community standards the student agreed to when accepting admission to the college.

This is not an issue of censorship, then, and I don’t wish to engage in a debate about whether or not expulsion would be infringing on the student’s free speech. When a community member fails to live up to community standards, and demonstrates an incapability to reasonably do so in the future, their membership of the community ought to be brought into question. If the college wishes to continue to stand by its founders and their mission, it must evaluate this student’s conduct in a way that allows for the possibility of expulsion.

Violent racism not only endangers students physically, emotionally and educationally, but is in direct opposition to the espoused mission of the college and of what it means to be a Dickinsonian. Either we make an exception for this student, which would allow that not ALL Dickinsonians need to be guardians of liberty and critically engaged civic-leaders, or we revoke this student’s membership and illustrate our commitment to the protection of civil liberties and the mission of Dickinson college.

For these reasons, I implore the administration to sincerely consider expulsion as a repercussion for this student’s actions.