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Obama election sparks unrest on Hampden-Sydney campus

November 9, 2012 12:10 am

BY STEVE SZKOTAK

BY STEVE SZKOTAK

Associated Press

RICHMOND

--About 40 students at Hampden-Sydney College shouted racial slurs, threw bottles and set off fireworks outside the Minority Student Union within minutes after President Barack Obama's re-election, officials of the tiny, all-male school said Thursday.

The disturbance late Tuesday and early Wednesday also included threats of physical violence, President Chris Howard said in an email to parents.

Members of the Minority Student Union notified campus police of the gathering outside their house. An investigation is under way.

"I am terribly disappointed with the students who participated in this harmful, senseless episode including those men who stood idly by and watched it happen," wrote Howard, the college's first African-American president. "There is no place for bigotry or racism on this campus."

Howard said offenders will be adjudicated by the campus justice system. They could face punishments ranging from probation to expulsion, he said.

The racially tinged incident is the second reported protest sparked by Obama's re-election. A protest at the University of Mississippi in Oxford late Tuesday involved about 400 people who shouted racial slurs. Two people were arrested.

Howard said nearly 300 members of the campus community gathered at a campus meeting Wednesday night to discuss what happened.

"There were a lot more at that town hall meeting denouncing what happened than the knuckleheads who were misbehaving terribly that night," Howard said in an interview. "We need to keep that in mind."

A spokesman for the college said the unrest escalated within minutes of the presidential race being called on television for Obama, with students leaving their residences and "expressing their disappointment." About 20 students were inside the house at the time and some left to peacefully confront the crowd, as did other students, spokesman Thomas H. Shomo said.

"There were slurs directed toward the MSU house, but at some point very quickly, certain responsible students got involved and said this is not right," he said. There were no physical confrontations and no damage occurred as a result of the unrest, he said.

Howard called the incident "a perfect storm of a tense nation, an uptight" nation and a campus of young men.

"We love our men, but they're young men," he said. "Young men sometimes act before they think."

He added, however, "You've got to look the facts in the eye and say what happened on that night was ugly."

Howard said those who attended the Wednesday night meeting were intent on addressing the root causes and how to move forward.

"This is not who we are and we're going to do better," Howard said, calling the offending students "bad seeds."

Hampden-Sydney, located about 60 miles southwest of Richmond, has a black enrollment approaching 9 percent of its 1,080 students. The private, tradition-bound school was founded in 1775 and is one of only three all-male colleges in the U.S.

The campus is known for its decorum and honor code. Visitors are greeted by passers-by, backpacks are left lying around without fear of theft and students dress in coat and tie for football balls.

Students are expected to hew to two standards of honorable behavior:

"The Hampden-Sydney student will behave as a gentleman at all times and in all places."

"The Hampden-Sydney student will not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate those who do."

Its former students have included a president, William Henry Harrison, and comedian Stephen Colbert.





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