Content warning: themes of racism
On New Year’s Eve, a video of Carleton student Jay Haws ’23 was posted to the Instagram Story of a former classmate who attended Stillwater High School in Minnesota with Haws. In the video, Haws is seen at a party, in the middle of the midnight countdown, pumping his fist and yelling “f*ck Black Lives Matter.”
Within a few days, the video and subsequent responses had been shared to a Class of 2024 Instagram account, to the Facebook group Overheard at Carleton and circulated around the campus community. In the weeks since, many student organizations have released statements condemning this racist act – including the Black Student Alliance (BSA), the Ujamaa Collective, the Black Student-Athletes of Carleton (BSAC) and the Carleton Student Association (CSA).
Students who were close to him felt horrified and betrayed. Jancyn Appel ’23, co-founder and president of the Black Student-Athletes of Carleton (BSAC), said that she had heard rumors that Haws was in trouble with the athletic department earlier in the day and had texted him to ask what had happened. A few hours later, when Appel saw the video, she said “my heart fell to my stomach.”
She continued, “This was a friend of mine, who I absolutely adored, screaming ‘f*ck Black Lives Matter,’ a cause not only had he demonstrated passion for in front of me, but also supported my advocacy work, supported me, hung out with me, etc., being utterly racist. There isn’t ‘missing context’ needed. It was just pure, unadulterated hate, and I was mortified.”
Talia Williams ’22, President of Carleton’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), said her initial reaction to the video was shock. “Jay was someone I wasn’t necessarily close friends with, but our friend groups overlap a bit, and I would never have expected to see him saying those things,” she said. “His Black teammates [on the football team] I think have been the most deeply affected, seeing someone they trusted and loved so blatantly disregard them.”
Making this video particularly hurtful was Haws’ purported allyship only a few months prior, when he participated in a campus-wide march against racial injustice organized by BSAC. Haws was quoted in a Fall Term edition of the Carletonian saying, “I participated in the march not just out of support for their cause, which is obviously something I wanted to do, but more importantly to display my support, and the support of the athletic community as a whole, for our Black student-athletes.”
This performative allyship heightens the betrayal that many students are experiencing. Jessica Brooks ’09, the current chair of the Multicultural Alumni Network (MCAN), said “I personally was extremely disappointed, especially after having seen that this specific student was also highlighted as an advocate for BLM on campus.”
The Wednesday following the video’s posting, some of Haws’ classmates in Introduction to Astronomy did not feel comfortable with his presence on the Zoom call, they said. Professor Valerie Fox brought up the incident at the beginning of class “to highlight that her class is a safe space for everyone,” according to Alicia Telle ’23. A tense discussion ensued, students reported.
Telle said, “I and one other Black student spoke about our thoughts on the issue. This student also voiced their discomfort with having Jay Haws in the class, and said how they think it is best for him to take the class asynchronously for the rest of the term.” Another student, who preferred to stay anonymous, said these requests have been ignored and Haws continues to attend synchronously.
Lack of a formal statement and publicized consequences
The video has been recorded as a Bias Incident and is now in the hands of the Dean of Students Office. President Steven Poskanzer informed the Carletonian that the college president does not have any role in student disciplinary matters. Thus far, the college has published two very brief statements to its website, neither of which was publicized by the administration—one by Dean Livingston on the Dean of Students page and one on the Bias Incident reporting page. An email from the CSA drew students’ attention to these statements.
The students the Carletonian spoke to felt that the lack of a more formal statement by the college is unacceptable. Williams said that aside from Dean Livingston’s two-paragraph statement on Carleton’s website, the college’s failure to release a more public statement “is an inappropriate response to a very public event.”
She added, “The video was posted by an individual who doesn’t even go to Carleton, and this has spread to many more people outside of the Carleton community. This paints a picture in the minds of those who were not able to see Dean Livingston’s statement that Carleton may be sweeping things under the rug.”
Since Haws is a sophomore defensive back on the football team, Head Coach Tom Journell said that he met with college administration so they could endorse the disciplinary action decided on by the Carleton football team. The college cannot release further details of disciplinary decisions due to school policies and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which protects the privacy of a student’s education record, including their disciplinary record.
Andrew Farias ’21, President of the CSA, noted that because these FERPA restrictions were not explained to students, many have been calling for the administration to release this disciplinary information.
CSA has also reached out to the Committee on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (CEDI) to ask for their group to reevaluate the recommendations for procedures on reporting to the campus about bias incidents. Dean Livingston explained to Farias that the decision to not send out a campus-wide email regarding the display of racism came as a recommendation from these procedures.
Farias noted that the procedures from CEDI were created in response to an October 2017 incident wherein the college felt the need to publicly address the drawing of a swastika on a classroom blackboard, only to later find out that the symbol was used in a class discussion of ancient symbols. To avoid similar problems of misinformation, CEDI recommended that incidents of bias should, instead, only appear on the CEDI website as they occur and in an annual report sent out to campus.
Farias wrote, “while we understand why CEDI made this decision previously, we believe that there was enough context and campus concern to validate a campus-wide email about the most recent incident.”
Appel agreed that communication about disciplinary procedures has to improve. “While we, as the student body, can’t know the ins and outs due to FERPA protections and a litany of other legal concerns, letting the student body know what’s going on rather than waiting to say anything until students email you I think is an easy change to be made.”
Representing the Multicultural Alumni Network (MCAN), Brooks added, “Silence is just acceptance of the behavior. If we can’t actually condemn the behavior, and specifically state that the college does not condone the behavior [or] has enacted some sort of punishment for the student, then all we’re saying is that other students can feel comfortable exhibiting this level of ignorance.”
This video was a reminder of the power of social media to publicly shame and hold members of the community accountable, but also that the work of the college extends far beyond addressing this incident. Appel said, “I’d be naïve to believe Jay is the only one or that racism or racist opinions begin and end with Jay. He’s just the product of a larger cultural problem.”
Williams said, “I think Carleton student athletes should take this as a sign to be really diligent in holding their peers accountable, especially their closest friends. I would also encourage our student athletes to use their anger, frustration and any other emotions they may be feeling about this incident as fuel and motivation in their own activism.”
She added, “This can be a learning experience and a conversation starter within teams on how we can prevent something like this from happening again.”
Haws did not respond to requests for comment.
Correction: Jan 24, 2021 – An earlier print version of this article did not include information about Astronomy 110.
As an African-American alum (’70) and former football and basketball letterman, I was saddened and disturbed to read about this incident, which was alluded to in a communication from Coach Journell, which I appreciated.
Generally speaking, the racial comment was no surprise as we all know the attitudes underlying same are pervasive in our society and that Carleton is not some utopia isolated from the realities of American racism. But the apparent “Jekyll and Hyde” racial attitude of the student at issue was indeed a true betrayal of those who know him and may have perceived him in a different light.
Incidents like this threaten to erode the trust Black Americans are seeking to develop in people who they perceive as having progressive attitudes regarding race and other matters relating to the identities and beliefs of others. We are already wondering how many of the 70+ million who recently voted for number 45 did so to preserve or perpetuate their sense of racial superiority and entitlement.
People are entitled to their beliefs and biases, no matter how abhorent. Unfortunately some that harbor racist attitudes are cowards or “progressives when convenient” who then exhibit their true feelings behind closed doors or in the presence of like-minded bigots. We can’t control that, but we must confront them when they engage in behavior that exhibits an intent to infringe upon or restrict the rights of others.
I hope the young man at issue comes to terms with his true beliefs. He is out of the closet now (I know that term has other connotations which are not intended here) and must decide which direction to take. Will it be Jekyll or Hyde?!