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A prisoner got 3 Bucknell students expelled after he complained about a racist radio broadcast

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  1. Three Bucknell University students have been expelled after making comments including "black people should be dead" and "lynch 'em" during a campus radio broadcast, the Associated Press reports.
  2. John Bravman, the president of the private Pennsylvania college, said the investigation into the incident is ongoing, but "context doesn't matter once you see what was said."
  3. According to Bucknell spokesman Andy Hirsch, the broadcast came to the attention of university officials when an inmate at a nearby prison heard the students' comments and reported them to a prison advocacy group, which in turn contacted a university faculty member.

The latest in outrageous but easy-to-address campus racism

Bravman's swift and decisive reaction to student racism is reminiscent of a similar incident last month. After video surfaced of University of Oklahoma Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity members singing an outrageously racist song, the university's president, David Boren, called their behavior "disgraceful" and kicked the fraternity off campus because "we don't provide student services for bigots."

These reactions were widely applauded, and with good reason. But it's important to keep them in perspective and remember that both university presidents' decisions were easy, as the conduct of the students involved happened to fall into the insanely narrow category of behavior that Americans label flat-out racist and unacceptable.

As Above the Law's Elie Mystal wrote about the SAE scandal:

Thank God Sigma Alpha Epsilon's University of Oklahoma chapter dared to go above and beyond to prove their racism. Thank God they actually sang a song. Because they pretty much could have done anything else without anybody suspending them or even complaining about racist behavior

And as I wrote in reaction to that incident (Read: Reaction to the Oklahoma frat scandal shoes just how poorly Americans understand racism), rarely is the subtle racism that harms college students and everyday Americans so easy to identify and condemn.

A question about college culture

The most bizarre element of the Bucknell story is that it took a prisoner who happened to be listening to report the students' racist rants to the university.

According to the AP, Bucknell has about 3,600 undergraduates, who are about 79 percent white, 5 percent Latino, 4 percent Asian, and 3 percent African-American.

While it's unclear how many of them listen to the campus radio station, it's somewhat unsettling that not a single member of the school community raised concerns about the explicit racism the student broadcasters were spewing.

If others heard the insulting remarks and didn't report it, it suggests a campus problem — either failure to take racism seriously or fear of speaking out against it — that runs deeper than the three expelled students.