Lessons learned, 10 years later

April 18, 2003

Even after 10 years, the Water Buffalo incident is still a vivid, bitter memory for those who were involved.

The battle over free speech that resulted from the incident made national headlines and placed a blemish on Penn’s reputation that the University is still struggling to overcome. It brought racial tensions to the forefront of campus discussion and served as a glaring reminder that the Penn community was not immune to issues of racial tension.

While the issues raised in the Water Buffalo incident have yet to be fully resolved, the University has made a tremendous effort over the past 10 years to rectify the policies and circumstances that led to this crisis. Penn’s judicial policy has undergone an overhaul intended to make it more responsive to student needs and to allow for open debate and discussion.

Penn has also become a leader among private institutions through its support of free speech and tolerance of even the most radical views. Today, a comment such as the one made by Eden Jacobowitz would certainly raise some eyebrows. But offensive as it might be, University officials would rightfully defend a student’s right to speak his mind, and that is commendable.

However, there is much work to be done on this campus with regard to race relations. Tensions are still brewing from a decade-old racial incident — and rightfully so. The University preaches tolerance and acceptance, but unfortunately, clear divisions in culture and race still remain.

Arguably, the one positive effect of the Water Buffalo incident is the open discussion of race relations at Penn that followed. And while progress has been made, more friendly and honest discussion is necessary to get to the root of cultural divisions at this school. The lines of communication are open, and students, faculty and administrators must continue to make an extra effort if these issues are to be resolved in the near future.

In retrospect, we have all learned a great deal about ourselves and our university over the last 10 years through the legacy of the Water Buffalo incident. We cannot prevent a similar event from occurring on this campus, but we are prepared to deal with the consequences of such an event in a more appropriate, more responsive and more productive manner should it ever happen again.

Schools: University of Pennsylvania