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We’re not sure why administrators at Highland Community College remain largely silent on allegations of racial discrimination within some of its athletic programs.

A cynic will say that this lack of response means the community college has something to hide in the way that African-Americans, both student athletes and coaching staff, have been treated on a campus made up of primarily white students. The more charitable explanation is that any institution’s leadership will show caution, even aversion to risk, when allegations become public and threats of legal action turn to reality.

Time will tell. What’s certain at this point is that enough disturbing allegations have come forward that they can’t simply be shrugged off as isolated incidents or false cries of racism. A strong investigation is merited.

Highland’s racial climate came under scrutiny late last year, after the college indefinitely suspended the staff of the women’s basketball team. Head coach B.J. Smith eventually was reinstated, but two assistants, both of whom are black, were never brought back.

The suspensions opened a floodgate of complaints from current and former black athletes in the football and women’s basketball programs. It culminated in a civil rights lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The suit, filed on behalf of four current and former students, alleges an ongoing pattern of racial discrimination. It even suggests students were told to stop wearing dreadlocks, wicks and other traditional African-American hairstyles. Students also claim they were subject to unwarranted scrutiny from campus security.

The college has taken some positive steps, namely a decision to go with an outside law firm instead of an internal investigation into possible violations of Title IX gender equity requirements. In addition, the original coaching suspensions may have involved an investigation into possible academic fraud for the assistance given to some women on the basketball team.

One of the suspended assistants called the college’s investigation of itself highly irregular, but this misreads the reality of intercollegiate sports at every level. College programs do report their own violations to the NCAA or other governing bodies, in the belief that it will be seen as a mitigating factor when handing down sanctions.

But it’s important to not get caught in the tall weeds of rules compliance and to look at the broader issue of how student-athletes and employees are treated. On this question, the leadership at HCC has engaged in a frustrating pattern of no comments and non-comments.

A good start would be a clear statement that discrimination in any form will not be tolerated. Is that too much to ask?

— News-Press NOW

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