We are in the midst of a college hoax epidemic, and it shows no signs of getting any better. Just last week at St. Olaf College, a racist note placed on a black student’s car was revealed as a hoax, written by someone who wanted to “draw attention to concerns about the campus climate.” At USC last month, someone hung a “no black people allowed” sign outside of a residence hall; the fellow who hung this reputable message turned out to be…a black person himself. At Indiana State University, a professor was arrested for “reporting phony anti-Islamic threats.” At the University of Michigan, a young woman revealed that she had lied about a pro-Trump hate crime and made up an attack on herself. At Capital University in February, a student admitted to fabricating a hate-filled note that was posted to his dorm’s door.
These are but a small sampling of the countless fake hate crimes that occur regularly at colleges and universities across the country. These hoaxes must also be placed in the context of a wider fake hate crime epidemic: these ruses can, and regularly do, happen everywhere.
But it is on college campuses that the hate crime hoax seems to find the most purchase. By now we are familiar with the cycle: a racist note or a hateful flier or a KKK hood or something else is discovered on campus, invariably by a student who also happens to be an outspoken progressive activist on campus. Word spreads; the college administration pledges to get to the bottom of things; students assemble, march, often issue a set of demands, vow to extinguish the (racist/sexist/ableist/transphobic) climate on campus. Soon enough somebody starts asking questions, and within a few days or even a few hours the entire hoax falls apart. Then everything calms down until the next offensive thing is discovered.
There is a reason that this kind of behavior is so common at American colleges. Much of our country’s institutions of higher learning have placed a high premium on victimhood status. Higher education is supposed to be both democratic (everyone is equal before authority) and meritocratic (one can advance oneself based on hard work and diligence). Modern college activists have flipped these considerations on their head: nowadays the greatest boon for a college student is to be victimized by some slight—real or fabricated—and the quickest way for a student to rise up the college ladder is to assert one’s special status based on skin color, sexual orientation, “gender identity” or some other consideration. (At Clemson University, for instance, a diversity training program cautions people to recognize that “[a diferent] cultural perspective regarding time is neither more nor less valid than any other.” Not showing up to an appointment on time is apparently now a civil right.)
In such an environment, it is hardly unsurprising that students would compete for the prized status of “victim,” going even to such lengths as making up hate crime incidents out of whole cloth. Colleges and universities, to be sure, have some ability to roll back this poisonous social tide: by punishing perpetrators of fake crimes, for instance, and refusing to indulge in victimhood culture. But all signs at the moment point toward American higher education continuing to support and encourage such madness.
It will hardly be a surprise when, a few days or a few weeks from now, a new college hate crime emerges that is shortly revealed as a hoax—nor will the next one be surprising, nor the one after that.