Jon Sanders

Civil rights are endangered worldwide. In Saudi Arabia, a woman who was kidnapped, beaten and gang-raped has been sentenced to 90 lashes for being alone with a man not related to her — then sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in jail for speaking to the media about her original sentence. In Venezuela, police fired on crowds of students protesting the increasingly dictatorial power of President Hugo Chavez.

And in the United States, at my alma mater, North Carolina State University, someone found a noose made out of toilet paper.

He didn't flush it. Oh no. At a large research university boasting some of the highest minds in America, the discovery in a small maintenance bathroom of one-ply bum fodder bent in the form of a noose is a Very Big Deal. It is most definitely a Civil Rights Crisis. It could very well be a Criminal Act.

Chancellor James Oblinger said as much in his statement to the campus – yes, a T.P. shape merits the attention of the leader of the largest public university in the state of North Carolina – announcing that it "could be someone's idea of a prank or it might constitute a crime."

Black activists angrily denounced the chancellor's response shockingly insufficient. The News & Observer (N&O) of Raleigh reported that "students said they want to hear university leaders making fiery speeches condemning racial hatred." At a meeting of the campus branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, students said the T.P. noose "should have gotten as much media coverage as the (Duke) lacrosse incident." Oblinger was blamed for not understanding the gravity of the situation because he "hadn't had anything happen to him just because he's a white man."

A senior, Robert Waldrup, said "We need to keep someone from hanging from the other end of that noose." Which was, if you will recall, made of toilet paper – the prospect of anyone hanging from it seems impossible, even at a school with a physics department as excellent as N.C. State's. Even that miniscule risk, however, could have been obliterated by a judicious depression of the flush handle.

On Nov. 14 Waldrup wrote a guest column in the student newspaper, Technician, calling the incident "nothing short of domestic terrorism" and proof that at N.C. State, "we are faced with the reality that racially, things have not changed much in 50 years." You may remember the Great Teepee Lynchings of '57.

The next day, N.C. State's student government passed unanimously something called the "Racism and Hatred Incident Act," demanding a campus hate-crimes policy, a stronger response from the administration, and criminal prosecutor of the noose-maker.

Not that the outrage was limited to the campus. On Nov. 16, N&O columnist Ruth Sheehan – who earlier this year wrote an apology to the Duke lacrosse players for her 2006 column "Team's silence is sickening," which opened, "Members of the Duke men's lacrosse team: You know. We know you know." – conjured the ghosts of the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazis in her reaction. She considered but discarded the "Flush it" approach, reasoning, "I am brought up short by a quote from writer/philosopher/Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel: 'Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.'" Sheehan appeared not to entertain the possibility that the torments of the Holocaust might dwarf a bathroom-tissue craft project.

Nor has anyone save, apparently, the chancellor considered that the "noose" might have been a prank or less (the public has not seen the noose). Specifically because of hysterical overreactions such as on display right now in Raleigh, universities are particularly susceptible to the faked hate crimes to jumpstart "campus dialogue" (i.e., create new speech codes and foist compulsory diversity classes on people). The College Democrat from George Washington University drawing swastikas on her own door is the most recent example of a hoaxing tradition that goes way back and even includes a black baby-doll lynching at Duke in 1997 that was done by black activists.

Some campus "hate crimes" don't even rise to the level of a hoax, however. Remember the uproar in 2005 over a burned Koran left outside of the Islamic Center of Blacksburg, Va.? Turned out that wasn't placed there out of an attempt to intimidate; it was placed there by a Muslim student at Virginia Tech whose house burned and didn't know the proper way to dispose of a burned Koran without desecrating it.

And then there was the "defecation" incident at the multicultural center at Swarthmore College in 1998, which led to protests, vigils, and a general state of high dudgeon until someone cared to investigate further and found that the apparent excrement was actually a piece of fallen chocolate cake.

At present, however, the university remains roiled. One wonders when will come the inevitable push to eliminate toilet paper on campus – after all, if guns cause crime, then what are we to say of free T.P.? Will the fallout revitalize a nascent bidet movement (C’est magnifique!) – or will it lend extra impetus to Sheryl Crow's one-square-per-visit eco-quackery? Or will the university community come to its senses that, at the end of the day, they are investing all this energy, time and emotion over toilet tissue?


Jon Sanders

Jon Sanders is associate director of research at the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh, N.C.