Since the early days of the War on Terror, the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay has been a feature of American justice. The institution is a black eye for the U.S. and like the Jim Crow laws will have stained its reputation permanently. Even those in favor of Gitmo must find it distasteful that we are “forced” to protect ourselves in such a way. The worst part of Guantanamo is not the abuse of prisoners, but elimination of habeas corpus. Many commentators have taken the Bush administration to task for holding prisoners without charging them, even when the pretense that they are enemy combatants has been falsified. Even though the administration has announced its intentions to release most of the captives, many remain imprisoned. One can imagine the uncertainty and anxiety felt by the prisoners, who are left in limbo and cannot appeal the decision as no official verdict has been made.And yet, if you want to see a similar anxious uncertainty, you don’t have to look any further than four fellow Lawrentians. You might have been wondering about that “campus safety notification” email sent by Nancy Truesdell just before the term started, wondering if that issue is resolved and if not, when. The four students barred from returning to school are wondering the same thing. They were told over break that potentially dangerous chemicals were discovered in their room. They were then told upon their return that the university has decided to put their lives on hold until the police investigation is complete. Left in limbo, they are being treated by the administration as, for all intents and purposes, guilty, despite the fact that they have not been charged.
The administration’s attitude toward these students troubles me. I would like to think that after three and a half years and tens of thousands of dollars Lawrence would at least be in my corner, but the school is choosing an antagonistic stance toward my peers that suggests otherwise. Students invest substantial time, money, and energy into their relationship with the school and LU’s quickness to distance itself from students and refusal to support them at the first sign of trouble suggests that this relationship is dysfunctional. This attitude toward the four looks even harsher when you consider that the school has touted the accomplishments of the students in Lawrence Today and on the LU website. They were good enough to garner Lawrence national publicity, but not good enough to deserve the benefit of the doubt.
The ideal college would not turn its back on its students. It would not let the investigators throw around phrases like “meth lab” when the four themselves deny these informal accusations that their peers find laughably ludicrous. The administration could have found hundreds of students to testify to the character of these four, but instead over-reacted at the sound of the world “chemical.” The administration might claim that they are acting to preserve the safety of other students, but this notion is ridiculous. Does Lawrence expect them to build an explosives lab on their return? Anyone who knows the students will attest to their harmlessness. The only things endangered are their academic careers. The administration’s de facto suspension of the four is punitive even though nothing has been proved.
Our administration ought to apologize to the students for not telling them until they came back to Lawrence that they would be on “administrative leave.” It should not illegally (Student Handbook, p. 12) suspend them and hide the suspension as an administrative leave. It should view them not as legal opponents, but as the members of this community that they are. This school needs to change its attitude toward its students. If in the future a student makes a mistake and runs into legal trouble, the school should consider the well-being of all parties involved. The Lawrence Difference should not be a hastiness to sacrifice students to assuage fabricated security concerns. Let the police do the police work while the administration cares for the students, its raison d’tre.