A teachable moment in the Babson-Wellesley Trump case
It seems more dumb and impulsive than hate-based.
Parker Rand-Ricciardi and another Babson College classmate drove onto the Wellesley College campus after the presidential election in a pickup truck with a Donald Trump flag hanging out the back while shouting, “Make America great again.”
Now he stands accused of “racist, misogynistic, and/or homophobic conduct.” However, a Babson College investigation can’t document those specific allegations, according to Jeffrey S. Robbins, a lawyer for Rand-Ricciardi, who is threatening Babson with a defamation suit. His client wants a public apology from Babson, along with the withdrawal of charges of harassment and disorderly conduct. Citing federal privacy laws, Babson won’t comment on specifics but said in a statement it’s committed to “a just result.”
Lacking hard evidence of more offensive conduct, this looks like a knee jerk reaction by college administrators quick to coddle Trump-traumatized campus liberals. But the case is complicated by where its students chose to do their gloating and by the very nature of Trump’s campaign. Just running around with a Trump sign can be viewed as racially offensive and demeaning to women — especially at Hillary Clinton’s alma mater — given that Trump was accused of stoking those biases. That makes it a teachable moment.
This much is undisputed. On Nov. 9 — the day after the presidential election — Rand-Ricciardi drove to Wellesley College in Edward Tomasso’s truck, which was decorated with a Trump flag. They shouted “Trump 2016” and “Make America great again” out the windows. According to social media posts, the two students also yelled homophobic and racist slurs. The men also ended up in the vicinity of Wellesley’s Harambee House, which serves as the center for African-American students.
On Nov. 11, Babson College President Kerry Healey apologized to the Wellesley College community for actions she described as “insensitive, unacceptable, and contrary to our core values.” A Babson vice president of student affairs sent out a letter saying that driving by Harambee House was “perceived . . . as racially offensive and gender demeaning.”
The two Babson students were banned from campus. Then, on Dec. 11, both students were notified the ban had been lifted. According to a letter released by Robbins (and first reported by the Boston Herald), a Wellesley College police report concluded, “No racial slurs, no homophobic slurs nor any other offensive symbols or flags were reported to anyone.” There’s also no evidence the two Babson students purposefully drove past Harambee House.
It looks like Babson jumped the gun by imposing a penalty before the investigation was complete. (Babson policies allow for preliminary penalties that can be lifted at the discretion of administrators.) The school also piled on with unconfirmed reports of racist and sexist slurs. The Babson students received a verbal trespass notice from Wellesley College, so they could have been disciplined just for that — although if they drove the truck in solidarity with Clinton supporters, no one would have cared.
Meanwhile, the story went viral, and both Babson students said they were subjected to death threats.
Both students acknowledge they inflicted harm and have apologized. In a Facebook post, Tomasso apologized for “an act of extremely poor judgment.” Rand-Ricciardi also apologized, saying, “We had no idea that our actions would be interpreted as racist, or sexist, or harassment. Neither of us had any intention whatsoever of being the cause of trauma, which we obviously ended up being.”
A disciplinary hearing is scheduled for later this month, to consider whether these students violated Babson’s community standards policy. They have already paid a high price. Among the many lessons they should have learned: Only Trump can act on impulse and get away with it.