Although the University eliminated a controversial speech code broadly banning racist behavior in the aftermath of 1993's infamous "water buffalo" incident, similar codes still exist on many college campuses and many experts say a similar high-profile case is likely to reoccur. The incident began in January 1993, when a group of African-American women performed a sorority ritual involving singing outside then-freshman Eden Jacobowitz's high-rise window. He yelled to the women, "Shut up, you water buffalo. If you're looking for a party, there's a zoo a mile from here." The women accused Jacobowitz, a 1996 College graduate, of violating Penn's racial-harassment policy. After the Wall Street Journal, conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh and the American Civil Liberties Union took up Jacobowitz's case, the women dropped the charges, saying the intense publicity meant their claims would not receive a fair hearing. "The University obviously didn't walk away without any damage to itself," said Larry Frankel, executive director of the Pennsylvania chapter of the ACLU, which helped represent Jacobowitz in the University's internal judicial proceedings. "Hopefully, the University learned a big lesson -- that it should not be in the business of regulating what students say." The University admitted no wrongdoing in settling the lawsuit, although it did pay Jacobowitz's attorney, Edward Rubenstone, under $10,000 to cover some of Jacobowitz's legal fees and expenses. "I think what the University owes him is an apology," said History Professor Alan Kors, who advised Jacobowitz in the judicial proceedings. What matters most is that Jacobowitz was vindicated in the court of public opinion, Kors added. Jacobowitz's case won't have the effect, however, of weakening or eliminating speech codes at colleges and universities across the nation, according to Jesse Choper, a Law professor at the University of California at Berkeley. "There are hate-speech codes enacted in a great many publicly connected universities," said Choper, a 1960 Penn Law graduate. Indeed, Jacobowitz, now 23 and starting his first year at Fordham University Law School in New York, said Sunday night that he recently attended a meeting where a panel discussed Fordham's hate-speech code before the law students. Additionally, the U.S. Supreme Court hasn't handled a case on the issue of campus hate-speech, making it likely that a high-profile case like Jacobowitz's "probably will" happen again in the near future, Choper said. Another "water buffalo"-like incident "absolutely" could happen again, said History Professor Sheldon Hackney, University president at the time of the incident. "Racism is still alive and well and has become more acrimonious as affirmative action has become attacked in other parts of the country," said Hackney, who was criticized for not stepping in to defend Jacobowitz at the time of the incident. But University Trustee Gloria Chisum, who advised the women during the judicial proceedings, said she hoped that "at Penn at least, we have people who are wise enough, who are kind enough and who are sensitive enough to try to prevent such a situation from happening [again]." Chisum characterized the incident as "being totally blown out of proportion by people who have no interest in the University and have their own private agendas."Comments powered by Disqus
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