Local forums and blogs have lit up with debate about an incident at Saint Mary’s College where a student has accused a vocal instructor of racial insensitivity stemming from another student’s singing of “Old Man River” in class. With some exceptions, most are saying this is a case of political correctness gone too far.
They’ve gotten new fuel for that argument with a statement released by Saint Mary’s student Paige Palmer, who says the version of “Old Man River” sung did not contain derogatory language. She also disputes E.J. Youngblood’s assertion that following the song, instructor Louis Lebherz told the student who had just sang it he was “brave” for performing it in front of a “gangster” like Youngblood.
(Full disclosure: I attended Saint Mary’s from 2002-2006).
It’s clear this situation is fast becoming a case of he said/she said. What’s (maybe) surprising is that people who were so quick to discount what Youngblood said are readily accepting Palmer’s statement as fact. And it’s clear the facts are still murky. If it’s not fair to judge Lebherz based solely on what Youngblood says (and it isn’t), it similarly is not fair to judge Youngblood based only on Palmer’s statement. Certainly, Youngblood and Palmer weren’t the only students in the classroom that day; the school has an obligation to talk to the others and find out what happened.
Politically, Saint Mary’s is in a tricky spot. Accreditors in 2008 criticized the Catholic college for a lack of diversity and poor race relations. Those same accreditors commended the school earlier this year for improvements, although many students say more needs to be done.
Lebherz has issued a written apology to Youngblood, and the school has forced him to apologize to the class and undergo diversity training. School officials would not comment on his employment status.
You can read Paige Palmer’s statement here. And here is Youngblood’s YouTube video detailing his allegations. Finally, here is Bay Area News Group higher education reporter Matt Krupnick’s article from yesterday regarding the incident.