They were still in their pajamas, still standing in their fungus-fighting flip-flops, when the girls of Bornhuetter Hall first noticed the words scrawled outside their doors.
Slut, Fuck the hippie bullshit, Vote Goldwater, and other slurs were emblazoned on the walls and doors of the College of Wooster's brand-new dormitory. Two roommates -- one Jewish, one black -- woke to find a swastika and I hate minorities written in dry-erase marker on their message board.
Maintenance crews raced to cover the vandalism in time for the dorm's official dedication ceremony that day in early October. But three weeks later, vandals struck again with scribbled penises and phrases like "oxen scrotum juice" and "eel semen" in Holden Hall, the largest dorm on campus.
Much of it was drunken drivel. But then there was that swastika on Sarah Arntsen's door.
"Regardless of whether you're drunk," says the 20-year-old junior, "something is going through your head that is wrong."
At Wooster, students can tolerate anything except intolerance. The 1,800-student liberal-arts school, hidden amid idle farmland and hollow barns 60 miles south of Cleveland, is a place where discussion of diversity, of "forums" and "dialogues," seems more popular than keggers. The partyers at Wooster -- namely the jocks, frat boys, and jock frat boys -- tend to take the brunt of leftists' scorn.
And so, the campus-wide hunt was on for the intolerant jerks with the dry-erase markers. An editorial in the school newspaper, The Wooster Voice, called for their expulsion. On October 28, Wooster President Stan Hales sent a blistering school-wide e-mail: "I am dismayed and angered by these incidents," he wrote. "We cannot and will not tolerate actions . . . that are intended to intimidate."
A week later, a forum was held. Students stood up and spoke and cried, telling Hales that they were pissed and they were scared. What is becoming of Wooster? they demanded.
Really, they knew. Many already had drawn suspect sketches in their heads -- images of jocks in letter jackets and Abercrombie cargos. Guys who came to Wooster because of their nasty curveball or their 40-yard-dash time.
"A typical white male," freshman Kamilla Fellah remembers thinking. "Those bastards."
As the semester wore on, the culprits remained unknown. But on December 16, in the middle of finals week, they broke their silence with a school-wide e-mail of their own: They were prepared to reveal their identities at yet another forum. They scheduled it for 8 p.m. that night.
With exams looming, 300 students and professors filed into the student union, eager to glimpse their enemy. And just as they had expected, that enemy was the . . . treehuggers?
"We are, to some, your campus 'hippie' community," said Megan Mitchell, a senior philosophy and black-studies double-major. She introduced her five fellow thugs to the crowd: men and women, gay and straight, women's studies and philosophy majors. One of them was Jewish. They were all sorry.
"A lot of people assumed it was that straight white male stereotype . . . and they wanted to get them off their campus," says Sarah Core, who covered the story for the Voice. "Finding out that it was students who are normally supposed to be sensitive to issues such as these was a big shock."
The vandals actually had turned themselves in weeks earlier. One of them says they were told they could expect leniency if they gave themselves up. (Only two of the vandals spoke with Scene; the four others did not respond to interview requests.) A panel of administrators heard their pleas: They were drunk. They were trying to be funny. They didn't know the target of their swastika was Jewish. And they didn't know the trustees were coming to dedicate Bornhuetter Hall.
It was another case of too much beer, too much whiskey, and too many readily available markers.
"'I'm a moron' is like the moral of the story," says Mitchell, who authored the phrase "oxen scrotum juice." The moron defense didn't hold up: Five of the students were expelled. Mitchell, who was suspended for a year, ended the student forum by revealing their punishments.
And at that moment, something changed.
"I really appreciate that you came forward," one student said in the customary Q&A period that followed.
"If I were in your position, it would take a lot of courage," another told them.
"I'm pretty sure that you are good people," still another said.
Just as justice was being served, the Wooster lynch mob wanted to send it back. Even the student paper, which damned the vandals in November, suddenly saw things differently.
"Even though this is a very serious crime, it is important to address it through education, rather than through just outcasting these people," says Liz Miller, one of the Voice editors who originally called for the students' expulsion. "A suspension is fine. But readmit these people into the college community and educate them."
The Bornhuetter Six filed appeals, then emptied their dorm rooms and retreated to their hometowns, in England, Virginia, and elsewhere. They started using new e-mail addresses, assuming they'd be booted from Wooster's e-mail server.
They weren't. On January 18, one day into the new semester, they received another campus-wide e-mail from President Hales.
"The open forum on December 16 . . . demonstrated that [the vandals] have begun to understand the impact their actions had on the community," it read. "They have apologized . . . and they have begun to atone for their actions."
It was official: The lynching had been postponed due to lack of interest. The efforts of the college and its students, it seemed, would be better served rooting out the jock frat boys.
The expulsions were reduced to suspensions; the students will all be allowed back in 2006.
In the meantime, there will, of course, be more student forums, more dialogues about tolerance at Wooster. No frat-boy hate crime will go unpunished, though liberal satire gets a pass.
"A drunk crime," Kamilla Fallah says in retrospect, "is a good way to put it."
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