When students are ostracized from a university community, even outside of suspension or expulsion, they become adversaries to the spirit and strength of the HBCU mission. They build interpersonal resentment against administration, build angst among their families and peers towards an institution, and vow to never support the college financially or with goodwill in their personal lives.
Such is the case in the ongoing saga of Virginia State University senior Brandon Randleman, the former Student Government Association president arrested and charged with hazing last month. Randleman says he pleaded guilty to the charges after being coerced by a threat against his graduation by the Petersburg Commonwealth Attorney and his former professor, Cassandra Connover.
VSU now says if Randleman pays a $75 fine for violating university student conduct rules, he can graduate and all is forgiven. Except, a planned civil suit against the university may bring repair to his scarred reputation, and the opposite impact to the university who scorned him in the name of anti-hazing.
Colleges and universities have to take tough stances on hazing and the liability of its real or potential impact. No school knows this better than Virginia State, which in the last two months has seen the removal of a student government president and the death of two freshmen because of hazing.
But in dealing with hazing, Virginia State and other HBCUs must find a way to sternly address the issue without villainizing perpetrators. Immaturity and poor decision-making can be healed by proper consequences, but bitterness is a lasting and pervasive antagonist of HBCU progress.
Randleman appears to be one of the most esteemed members of the Virginia State Class of 2013. For whatever his level of bad behavior in this hazing story, it’s highly likely he’ll be redeemed in the years to come. And it’s also likely that Virginia State will be, in his eyes, irredeemable for the way it pursued and persecuted him in making a stand against the act of hazing.
That will mean scores of people close to Randleman will also have a negative view of Virginia State. Friends, family, future employers and employees of his will directly or indirectly be exposed to an animosity against the school that will linger for decades.
When his role in a hazing investigation is forgotten and replaced with professional accomplishment, will Randleman remember Virginia State for all of the wrong reasons?
Someday, Virginia State, under new leadership and vision, will attempt to reach out to him to support the university. Maybe it will be successful, maybe it won’t. But it wouldn’t be surprising if he made it as difficult for VSU to recruit him as a donor and advocate as they once made it difficult for him to become an alumnus.