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Noose Outcry: A New Entry in the Campus Hall of Shame By: Katherine Kersten
Star Tribune | Friday, November 23, 2007

Does anyone still wonder why college culture is the laughingstock of the larger community? Our campuses seem to lurch from one politically correct knee-slapper to the next.

Does anyone crack a book at these places anymore?

Meet Gabriel Keith, an aspiring journalist who attends Minneapolis Community and Technical College. Keith has served as news editor of the campus paper, volunteering many hours and even quitting his part-time job when it interfered with the paper's needs.

Keith came to MCTC after three tours of duty in Iraq as a Marine. He saw some pretty scary stuff there. But now he knows that a combat zone is a Boy Scout camp compared with a standard-issue college inquisition in 2007.

We join Keith sitting in the college newsroom one afternoon last month.

He is lamenting the headache of student reporters' missed deadlines with fellow staffers. The group jokes about various tongue-in-cheek motivational messages -- an ice pick, a bloody knife and other fanciful instruments of discipline. Keith impulsively sticks a mock noose made from his sweatshirt drawstring to the ceiling, with a note about the hazards of missed deadlines.

The drawstring was there a few minutes, he says, and he tossed it in the wastebasket before he left.

Keith's antic raised the curtain on the politically correct circus-of-the-month at MCTC. Someone flipped the "I'm outraged, simply outraged!" switch, and Keith found himself at center ring under the Big Top after two black staffers filed complaints.

The day after the incident, an astonished Keith got a call from the paper's editor, who fired him. At a meeting set up by college authorities, he apologized profusely to staffers. He called the noose joke "unprofessional" but explained that it was a misunderstanding.

"Too late," one student responded, said Keith. "The staffer told me, 'An example needs to be made. We need to raise awareness of issues like this on campus.'

"They didn't want an apology," Keith added. "They wanted me out of there so they could launch the aftermath."

An investigation by campus authorities found that Keith had no intention of making a racist threat. No matter. He was on his way to being tarred as the campus arch-racist.

College officials declined to comment Friday but referred me to a statement saying they have no authority over hiring and firing of student newspaper staff members.

"We are angry," Lisa Dean, president of Association of Black Collegiates, a student group, told the Star Tribune for an article about the incident. "If we do not nip it in the bud, it will spread and a lot of students may not want to attend this college because of racism."

At the P.C. circus' surreal climax, Keith unknowingly walked into a protest rally where a crowd vented outrage at his bigotr. Meanwhile, administrators scrambled to use the incident as a "chance to educate our students."

Educate about what? You guessed it: "We want to educate around cultural understanding," Laura Fedock, interim associate vice president for academic and student affairs, told the Star Tribune. "We need to teach each other when something is offensive."

One wonders: Are students learning anything else?

How did Keith's light-hearted "get-your-assignments-in-on-time" joke flip the outrage switch?

The thinly veiled secret is that an incident like this is a godsend to campus political posturers and must be milked for all it's worth.

Today, a favorite college pastime is fanning the flames of grievance. Victimhood is a tremendous source of moral power, and being outraged and oppressed is a sure bet to get your picture in the paper -- displaying a look of grave concern for all humanity.

Keith points out the irony of using him as a device for such self-dramatization.

His best buddy in Iraq was a black Marine who fought side by side with him through three tours of duty, he says. "He wouldn't have had anything to do with me if I were a racist."

In his travels, Keith adds, he has seen real racism -- mockery and humiliation based on skin color that left him incensed. "I don't understand why I am being told to take these people here seriously," he said. "If they knew what real racism was, they wouldn't be making these frivolous claims.

"Forums on racism are fine," Keith concluded. "Real racism is a terrible thing, but don't use me as a vehicle for it."

Are there any adults besides Keith at MCTC?

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