Freshman Kevin Moser was placed on disciplinary probation earlier last month for hanging a Michael Jordan doll by its neck in his room on Wright third.
Freshman Robert Black and sophomore Caniggia Thompson, both black minorities on campus, spotted the doll hanging from Moser’s air vent as they walked passed his room. The students approached Moser and asked him why he had the doll strung up.
“I said jokingly to them [that] I am a farmer, and he was being a bad worker — so I had to put him up there,” Moser said. “They just walked away and I thought nothing of it. And I thought they thought nothing of it.”
In an exclusive interview with Forester Digital News (FDN), Thompson said he found Moser’s reasoning for hanging the doll problematic.
“If anyone knows about the world and what happened in the past, saying [the doll was hung because he was a bad worker], you would think that [Moser’s] a slave master and [the doll] is a slave,” Thompson said.
Black took a Snapchat of the doll — which Moser said had been hanging for about two weeks before it was brought to his attention — and presented the photo to Jesse Brown, the associate dean of student development.
The Monday immediately following the incident, Moser got a call from Brown and was asked to meet with Black and Jake Siegel, a resident assistant on Wright third, to discuss the episode. In a later meeting, Brown placed Moser on a 10-week disciplinary probation with 20 hours of required community service. He was also instructed to periodically meet with a mentor four total times.
“Before I even received my punishment, I … [realized] it was a careless act,” Moser said. “And I didn’t mean for it to be like that. It just kind of got out of hand, and it was my fault for being careless.”
Moser said he intends to follow through with his punishment and hopes to learn from this situation.
“I am not glad the situation happened,” he said, “but I am glad that I can learn from it and definitely grow and not be so careless in the future.”
Black said he and Moser have since discussed the incident and reconciled.
“I got my frustrations out and he got his out,” Black told FDN News. “And he apologized and I accepted it. And then we prayed and then that was it. So there’s no hard feelings toward him or anyone on the floor at all.”
Jesse Brown is partnering with members of the university community to try and make the best of the situation.
Brown is a member of the Diversity Committee, a group of students, faculty and staff of both minority and majority students committed to preserving and enhancing the atmosphere of diversity on campus. They will be partnering with the Senior Leadership Team to decide what the university can do to increase diversity and racial awareness around campus. This includes the possibility of increasing minority representation within university staff and faculty, Brown said.
Brown and the rest of the Diversity Committee are currently working to amend the student handbook to include a more specific definition of what is and is not acceptable conduct. They will discuss what the degree of severity are for these types of incidents. They are also working to determine what the appropriate steps are to report an issue, who to report it to and what happens after it is reported.
“I want students to feel as though they’ve been heard and that we understand them,” Brown said. “I think a particular importance is recognizing that … I miss some insensitivities and racial language or racial symbols that others pick up on.”
Although Moser said he did not hang the black doll as an intentional act of racism, Dr. Kevin Miller, professor of communication, said the interpretation of potentially racist actions is more important than the intention.
“If there is any kind of joking or any kind of symbolic action, like a doll being hung by its neck, the interpretation from the minority community is rightly justifiable in seeing it as offensive,” Miller said, “even if the offending student didn’t anticipate their actions as offensive racially.”
Dr. David Alexander, the associate professor of philosophy, shares Miller’s view on the interpretation of potentially racist acts.
“Racism … is a big deal whenever it happens, whether it is in my heart or somebody else’s heart, it’s a big deal,” Alexander said. “[Still], we have to distinguish between a racist person and a racist event. Someone can engage in a racist action and not themselves be a racist.”
Dr. Sherilyn Emberton, campus president, said she hopes to see growth and maturity in the way the campus community interacts with each other.
“To think that we are going to live in a world totally absent of bias or racism … is probably not realistic,” Emberton said. “However, as Christians, we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. … The most important thing from here is that we demonstrate to people who might be watching us how Christ’s love works – how reconciliation works.”