I grew up with Saturday Night Live. When it debuted in 1975, I was a high school freshman and looked a little bit like Emily Litella with her eyeglasses and unkempt hair. For that reason alone, she endeared herself to me. "Never mind" became a favorite part of my lexicon, indicating what I thought was cool nonchalance. You can imagine the social life of a girl who thinks Emily Litella is an aspirational figure.
The other day, I thought of Emily when I heard that my alma mater, Villanova University, had tabled an investigation into an alleged "hate crime." According to news reports, a black female student complained that she was knocked down by a group of white men chanting "Trump, Trump, Trump" as they ran through a train tunnel on campus. This allegedly happened two days after the presidential election, just as protests were getting underway, and people started getting nervous about a wave of hate that had engulfed the country, as in "I See Racist People!"
Radnor police investigated, then, after a few days, closed the matter. Why? Because the student told them she was no longer interested in pursuing the case because of "personal reasons."
At the time, my alma mater indicated that it would continue to try to find out what happened, promising it would hold any wrongdoers accountable for their bad acts. One supposed that they were talking about racist white undergraduates, not people who made false reports to the authorities.
Then, last week, Villanova announced it was closing the probe altogether because, as spokesman Jonathan Gust said, "It was hard to move forward, being that the student did not want to pursue the matter."
This is when Emily Litella whispered in my ear saying, "Never mind." And that angered me.
I understand it would be difficult for any organization to complete a full investigation into an alleged attack if the self-defined victim has stopped cooperating. She no longer wants to play, so the game must end, right? Well, actually, no. If there is no evidence that a crime occurred besides the word of the student (unless there was empirical evidence of bruises, cuts, a visit to the doctor, other eyewitnesses), it would seem incumbent upon an institution that runs a law school that awarded me my degree and could easily round up a few specialists on the consequences of making a false report to figure out what happened.
After all, if these vicious white supremacists are at large and stalking good folk on that bucolic suburban campus, you would think the school would want to protect the gentle boys and girls from future harm.
Instead, they pulled an Emily Litella and said, "Never mind."
I reached out to the school for a comment. I wanted to know both why the investigation had been terminated and whether, in fact, there had been any other reports of similar incidents at the SEPTA tunnel. Gust pointed me to the university's official statement, confirming that both Villanova and Radnor had closed the investigation "because the student who reported the incident has chosen not to pursue the matter any further." He also told me that "no other such incidents have been reported."
I don't blame Gust. He is doing his job, and it is a difficult one. How do you make palatable the fact that a story that was big news only weeks ago is now a footnote that everyone wishes would simply go away? You know, "Never mind."
My frustration is directed at an administration that has allowed the good name of my alma mater (NCAA national champions, for God's sake!) to be tarnished by innuendo without trying to get to the bottom of a suspicious situation. Sure, it's hard to do your due diligence when Exhibit "A" has told you she wants to forget it ever happened, but that should be irrelevant. In fact, that should be the reason you keep pursuing it.
There are many times when a complaining witness wants charges dropped or investigations suspended, and the system ignores those wishes.
Villanova is not a branch of the criminal justice system. Its primary mission is to educate (and win national championships.) But it has a reputation to defend, and allowing this unsubstantiated claim of a "hate crime" to hang there in the ether harms all of the good people who have walked across campus over these long decades.
You might say, who really cares about the reputation of one school, Christine? And of course, except for those of us who went there, you might be right. But I think this is even bigger than three alleged white racists and a transit tunnel. This is about a narrative being built upon anecdotal allegations of racism that, piece by piece, are being pulled apart and questioned and, when placed under a microscope, dissolve like flesh in acid. It is very hard to put the genie back in the bottle. And that is how the idea of terror, persecution and the wave of hate crimes is born.
Again, this is not to say no crimes were committed. There absolutely have been, and white supremacists gleefully spew their hatred instead of hiding it under the slimy rocks of their former existence. But we should not create villains when they do not exist. A drunken frat boy who is happy his candidate won and might have just wobbled into another student in a dark alley is not David Duke.
I wish Villanova had at least come out and said something along the lines of "we have found nothing to substantiate the claims made by the alleged victim." I wish someone in a position of authority had walked across campus to the experts at my law school and sat through a tutorial on due process and reasonable doubt. I wish there had been an attempt to fumigate the fishy smell that permeates this case.
Instead, my beloved alma mater decided to resurrect my old doppelganger Emily and said, with a straight face, "Never mind."
Oh, but I do. I really, really do.
Christine Flowers is a lawyer.