Tuesday, April 6, 2010
The Boogie Man Spotted on Tennessee State University Campus
After writing about Tennessee State University’s woes with one media’s narrative, I told my sons attending the school to let me know if any media was stalking the campus. I instructed them not to discuss the blog post from two weeks ago. Speaking up about public mind games has it downside. I do not want my children to become targets of the media or angry members of the TSU family because of my blogging.
Before the dust could settle on the story, I got a call from one of my TSU brats jokingly saying, “Mom, I spotted the boogie man on campus today!” Exasperated, I asked in an oh-lawd-have-mercy tone, “Where?” I started praying immediately because I knew whatever the reason for the media being on campus, it was not good for TSU. It was only a few hours after that call that my predictions about the media’s visit came true.
On March 31, Channel 5’s Mark Bellinger led with “Crime up on Tennessee College Campuses”. Before I could grab my antacid tablets, Mr. Bellinger said, “Area colleges and universities also saw some pretty big increases. One of those campuses is Tennessee State University in Nashville”. Need I say more? Yep, the boogie man disguised as a reporter strikes again. Bellinger reported the details about the increase in Tennessee college campus crime rates but only visited or gave crimes stats about one school, my boys beloved Big Blue.
Each year, TBI reports crime statistics for ALL colleges and universities throughout the state. The statistics were released last month for the 2009 school year. Crime was up 9 percent over the previous year for over all crimes. This was the first significance increase in five years. Bellinger further stated the only two homicides that occurred on Tennessee college campuses in 2009 were at TSU. He failed to cite that no TSU student was involved in either of the incidents. In the case of the graduation shooting, the school’s campus was being used by one of Metro’s high schools. But who cares about the details when TSU is the storyline.
Bellinger found two students and showed them reports with the school crime rates from 2008-2009. The students gave commentary about the reports without asking, “Why are you interviewing us and what is this story about?” When I was younger, my grandmother often said, “Don’t be running your mouth to folks you don’t know!” I wish someone would have said that to the students who looked as if they were trying extremely hard to sound engaging and smart. Were they shown other school reports as well? Inquiring minds want to know.
Mr. Bellinger repeats scary crime statistics on the campus as if TSU was located in the middle of Chicago’s public housing. Numbers for homicides, assaults, burglaries, robberies and thefts were given. TSU’s Chief of Police was interviewed as well. I do not know if her interview was spliced but she mentioned bullying in her sound bite. Bullying was not on the above list that was given for increased crime on the campus; you have to know that bullying is included in the assault numbers to make the connection. TSU’s Chief Russell statement from the interview:
"We do not tolerate any type of intimidation, bullying or any of that is not allowed on our campus, so we do write students misconduct citations for that type of behavior," said Russell.
I contacted Chief Russell, who stated, “Many do not know that any form of intimidation and bullying by definition is assault. TSU responds to all assaults; sometimes it is dealt with by mediation and sometimes by arrest. We encourage conflict resolution which is not always in a report. We take the safety of our students very seriously.” The boogie man media’s narrative will shock you with facts that many are not aware how that information is factored into their reporting. Frightening.
Bellinger winds down his report by saying that larcenies and thefts were down at TSU from 174 to 156. Thank God, good news! Right before he finished closing the coffin on TSU’s reputation, he let us know that MTSU and Vanderbilt University’s crime rates had increased. Yes, he ends the three minute report that was torture for the TSU’s community by saying, “MTSU and Vandy’s crime rates are way up.” But not one figure was given to balance the story. Viewers were encouraged to visit TBI’s website for news about the other schools. Folks, TSU got to be doing something right for so many to work this damn hard to make the school look bad week after week, story after story. In four weeks, two different reporters from two separate media outlets covering TSU have reported college related stories but only gave the figures or misleading information about TSU.
Being a fair and balanced blogger, I believe that all the facts should be given to ensure the audience that the storyline is news and not a pre-written narrative. When I see constant reporting about TSU with slants, angles and twists that washes the school in a bath of negativity, it makes me wonder if I will ever see news about the school reported with researched comprehensive truth. Since Vandy and MTSU were mentioned but no information for those schools given, let me share with you the crime statics I obtained from TBI. I read the same report that Bellinger had access too. When I spoke with TBI communications director, Kristin Helm, she stated crime reports from all schools are combined to get the state’s average. Schools with higher crime rates are factored in with schools with small crime reports. To focus on one school when several in the same area with higher rates seems ridiculous and bias.
Vandy’s crime rates 2008/2009
Assaults 141 114
Sex offenses 4 4
Theft 436 601
Fraud 18 36
Drug violations 141 142
MTSU's crime rates 2008/2009
Sex offenses 0 4
Assaults 52 49
Theft 269 259
Fraud 6 2
Drug violations 49 80
I know many good, honest, loving, decent people who teach, attend, and employed by Vanderbilt and MTSU. If I was going by the crime statics reported, I would think both campuses are full of lawless, crack heads that steal and embezzle. It is very easy to use a piece of a paper to paint a narrative in broad strokes. My friends and customers at both universities are not going to like that I mentioned their schools/employers but neither do students, faculty and the TSU community like it when the media give partial reports about schools but only include information on TSU in the reporting. Vanderbilt crimes rates are higher than TSU. Both schools are in Nashville. So why focus on only TSU? Even TBI's overview of reported offenses mentions Vanderbilt’s crime statistics specifically. Yet, the reporter only shares numbers from TSU’s report. Hmmm. Middle Tennessee State has higher crime stats than TSU but no numbers from that school was given either. In grade school, I was taught the letter M comes before T.
I have asked publicly and privately, why is TSU caught in the media’s cross hairs so frequently? Some have commented that TSU is “low lying fruit”. TSU must address the root of the media bias more as well as deal with internal conflicts. HBCU Digest wrote recently about the Tennessean debacle;
“Likely, it (the Tennessean) went with information provided by insiders at TSU, for one reason or another, it didn’t see fit to corroborate with the administration.”
All of this drama troubles a poor mom’s heart. The school's first set of priorities is to educate young people. Anyone fighting the mission of the school, is fighting the students. The community must help build up the university and help attract young people to the college but we can no longer turn a blind eye to those who are interfering with the goals of educating our youth. Our children are our future.
When my grandfather was working on the civil rights battlefield trying to help get Black folks registered to vote; it was extremely dangerous for him traveling from one rural town to another. He was a marked man for many years. He said later in life, “I knew the white folks who were after me, they did not hide their intentions; it was my own folks that I was afraid of most of the time. Some would offer me a glass a water and a place to rest my head, while at the same time helping dig the grave for folks to put me in. You learn to sleep with your eyes wide open.” My grandfather was not a college graduate but he had a PhD in life.
Media folks will do what they do but the community of color must not be slow about speaking up and get its act together. We must stop digging graves for each other and start planting seeds to help grow the entire community. These last few weeks has taught me how much we need each other and how important it is for us to work together to bring about positive changes in the community, whether or not we are in the media’s glare or the spotlight.
Comparable Crime Rates 2009
Crimes on Campus TBI Report www.tbi.state.tn.us/tn_crime_stats/publications/Crime%20on%20Campus%202009.pdf