Busted for Blackness at Middlebury

How a Bronx senior with a sterling record got kicked out of a tony Vermont college

College officials also stand by their actions. Walker's professed innocence aside, Middlebury dean Tim Spears, when asked if expulsion is not a harsh penalty for crashing on the wrong floor, says, "How would you feel if your apartment were invaded at night? Anyway, there are details that aren't part of the public record. We don't conduct our judicial proceedings in the public forum."

And that's what ticks off Walker's supporters.

"They're just circling their wagons around, and it sickens me," says lawyer Robert Weltchek. "For them to simply hide behind their rule book, saying, 'procedure was followed,' is very scary to me. They are not [legal system] professionals. They orchestrate these tribunals that can ruin people's lives. They couldn't do this at a public school where students are guaranteed due process."

He was robed: In a happier moment, O'Neil Walker, modeling his graduation gown, with his mom
photo: Nolan Weltchek
He was robed: In a happier moment, O'Neil Walker, modeling his graduation gown, with his mom

To understand how a senior in good academic standing with no prior disciplinary problems could get kicked out of school for allegedly trespassing, you need a sense of the school's racial climate over the past year.

According to school records obtained from Addison County court files, paranoia started building last November, when a male student in the large dorm complex Ross Commons woke up to find a figure crouched on the floor at the foot of his bed. It was dark, but the student could see that the intruder had close-cropped hair. The alleged intruder said nothing as he crept from the room and disappeared, leaving only a calling card—a pair of Tootsie Roll lollipops—on the floor, sticks crossed, like some sort of symbol.

About a week later, in the same dorm, another student reported waking up after a night of partying to find a strange man "rubbing his penis." The victim reported that he tried to grab the intruder but the man—described as a black man with long "nappy" hair sticking out of a dark hoodie—ran from the dorm.

A campus alert went out, warning students to be on the lookout for a college-age man of that description. The rumor mill went into overdrive.

"There's a lot of gossip and rumor here," says Weltchek. "It's a lot like high school. People started joking about the 'Ross Toucher.' " The real culprit, or maybe just a prankster, fanned the flames by posting a note on an Internet message board claiming to have successfully donned a "nappy" wig in order to get off. A group of students started a spoof Internet forum titled "The Man With Nappy Hair Came Into My Room and Touched Me" and used a picture of a black, Afroed boy. African American students were furious.

A couple of months later, things died down, but for Walker, events were about to heat up. Fall semester ended, there was a break, and David Hawkins was one of many students who chose to switch rooms at the start of spring semester. The first night in his new room was January 30, according to documents, and Hawkins had had "six or seven" drinks—he originally told investigators that he had had only two drinks—before he crashed in his room at 2:30. Hours later he awoke to find a kid he didn't know lying, possibly sleeping, on his floor. The two argued, according to Hawkins. The crasher said it was just a mistake, that he'd crashed there because he thought it was still the room of his friends from the previous semester. But Hawkins didn't believe him and later told the college's director of public safety, Elizabeth Boudah, that he wanted his uninvited guest caught. Hawkins pointed to three black students from the Middlebury face book who he said resembled the intruder. Fortunately for each of them, none were on campus that weekend. That might have been the end of it, but two weeks later Hawkins spied Walker and his friends on a beer run. Hawkins later told campus police, according to records, that he was "95 percent sure" Walker was the intruder.

But O'Neil Walker looks nothing like the description Hawkins gave Boudah. Hawkins reported that the intruder had high cheekbones and a light complexion, while Walker's cheeks are rounded and his skin is a rich, dark-brown color. Hawkins also said the intruder had an "African" accent, while Walker's diction is crisp and unaccented. Nevertheless, it was decided that Walker was not only a serious suspect in this case but in the others. He was absolved of all but the Hawkins incident.

O'Neil Walker may not have fit the description of the intruder, but he fit the profile.

"Middlebury failed to see the type of person he is," says Walker's mom. "They are so willing to put the blame on somebody. They don't care if they destroy a person. He's innocent, he's been framed. This shows you can't trust everybody."

« Previous Page