SAN JOSE -- The first meeting of a special task force looking into a racial bullying incident on the San Jose State campus quickly evolved into a restless recitation of matters the panel's 18 members want to discuss, review and revamp by the time their work is done.

With retired judge LaDoris Cordell at the helm, the collection of students, academics, staffers and community activists sat at a three-sided table and launched into a wide-ranging discussion before an audience of about 100 members of the public allowed to listen but not participate. Cordell said there will be future meetings at which the public can vent and where the panel will listen in silence.

But on Thursday evening, armed with a 52-page report about the explosive incident of a black freshman who was racially bullied -- from August until October -- by four of his white dormmates, the discussion moved primarily into deeper issues about the event and about more campus schisms, wounds and issues the multicultural group wanted to analyze.

Cordell, the independent police auditor of San Jose, told the panel it will ultimately show the university how to be a place where "students, staff and faculty of all backgrounds can thrive." And, she said, since they are going to be working in an open and transparent process, "I ask that members be respectful to one another and that when we disagree, we not be disagreeable."

The meeting came just days after the release of an independent report by a San Francisco attorney about the bullying. While the report concluded that the university acted quickly and properly once it found out that the torment had gone on for weeks, many in the campus community decried the document.

Accusing it of everything from "blaming the victim" to failing to interview the victim or the main culprits of the bullying, numerous students, faculty and community activists are anxious to see how the task force will salve the controversy resulting from the case.

The dormmates are accused of steadily taunting the 18-year-old victim with bigoted name-calling, barricading him in his room a number of times and forcibly securing a U-shaped bike lock around his neck -- among other acts.

In the opening session, the panel not only discussed holes in the report but also other things it intends to look at, tear apart and rebuild into something better. One by one, task force members spoke out about matters that needed critical attention. They included:

  • The training of resident advisers. The panel asked what kind of training allowed so many visits by dorm officials to one suite for racially tinged reasons to go unfettered for months. Why, task force members asked, were there written reports indicating that problems were discovered by advisers early in the school year, but nothing was done about them?

  • The need to retool freshman orientation to include multicultural sensitivity and teach effective ways to report all harassment and bullying, whether physical or psychological.

  • Teaching all students to speak up when they see something going terribly wrong with a fellow student. The victim implored others not to report what they knew to authorities, and the panel members expressed dismay that so many of his friends stayed silent.

  • The re-establishment of diversity training campuswide for everyone and the development of training in leadership, with an emphasis on multiculturalism and ethnic sensitivity. One panelist noted that black study courses have been steadily eliminated.

    In the end, Cordell said, the panel wants to bring in lots of people and ask them lots of questions -- "not to point fingers, but to make recommendations for a better system."

    Task force member Marcos Pizarro criticized the report as he strongly summed up the work he hopes the task force will complete. He said the report seemed to find the school not at fault in policing a terrible situation.

    "I think that whole approach is wrongheaded," said Pizarro, chair of the Mexican American Studies Department at the university. "We need to be looking at how did this happen? How did it continue to happen? And how did it continue to happen without anybody taking note and doing something about it?"

    Cordell chimed in: "Marcos, that is exactly why we're doing this."

    The report found that the bullying was able to continue so long because the victim did not report his travails and urged friends not to tell anyone in authority on campus.

    But finally, in October, after the victim's parents entered his dorm suite and saw a Confederate flag displayed in a common area, along with a racial epithet scrawled on a white board, they made a report to campus. By November, the case went public as criminal hate-crime charges were about to be filed by Santa Clara County prosecutors.

    Contact David E. Early at 408-920-5836.