Updated Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017, 3:58 p.m. EDT: John Greenwood, the 19-year-old Cornell sophomore whom Ithaca police have charged with beating a black classmate, has owned up to using racial slurs. He did not, however, refer to the group assault he’s alleged to have been a part of.
In an email to the Cornell Daily Sun, Greenwood apologized for “unacceptable and inappropriate language” and said he took “full responsibility” for his words. The Sun reports that Greenwood apologized to his “fellow students, the entire Cornell community and my family and friends.” There was no mention as to whether he apologized to the black Cornell student who was subjected to his racist language.
Greenwood, as is par for the course in these sorts of apologies, made sure to mention that the language he chose to use “neither reflects my values nor who I am.”
Anyone who thinks “clean-cut American kids” are somehow incapable of violent acts of racism hasn’t been paying attention. On Tuesday, Ithaca, N.Y., police said that a 19-year-old white Cornell University student, identified as John Greenwood, has been charged with misdemeanor assault on a black Cornell undergrad. The news was reported by the Cornell Daily Sun.
The student assaulted, who is currently a junior, spoke to the Sun and the New York Times last week about the incident, which happened outside his Collegetown home. He told the outlet that he came home at 1 a.m. to find a group of students arguing with his housemates. The victim says that after asking the students to leave, the young men insulted him and called him the n-word before four or five of them began punching him in the face.
He spoke to the outlets on condition of anonymity and has not been identified by police.
The alleged assault, coupled with an earlier incident in which a Cornell student chanted “building a wall” near the campus’s Latino Living Center, has prompted the Ivy League university to pull together a campus task force to address racism and bigotry there.
The Associated Press reports that the university is also investigating the beating as a possible hate crime.
A lawyer who said he represents Greenwood told the Daily Sun that his client was not involved in the assault on a black student.
“To be clear, the use of the n-word, and any related racist or derogatory language, is completely unacceptable not only at Cornell but anywhere in America,” Raymond Schlather said. “My client understands this well; such language not only offends his values but does not reflect the person he is.”
According to the campus newspaper, Greenwood is a former squash player at the school. Hailing from Toronto, the Cornell sophomore also appears to have attended Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts—an elite prep school that charges over $60,000 in tuition to board there.
The other assailants are believed to be members of the fraternity Psi Upsilon. While a Cornell administrator said in a statement last week that members of a “currently unaffiliated fraternity” were involved in the attack, the campus’s Black Students United organization named Psi Upsilon outright. Last week, the phrase “You Rasist fucks [sic]” was spray-painted on the chapter’s former frat house. According to the Sun, the fraternity announced Wednesday that it would immediately close its chapter at Cornell and open up the house for use by other student orgs.
At first blush, it would seem that all of the alleged assailants are exactly who you would cast to play “good,” preppy American boys: Ivy Leaguers, frat members, well-heeled attendees of the best prep schools in the country. It’s not particularly surprising that racist incidents happen in liberal enclaves, or that the wealthiest and most privileged among us are capable of cowardly, racist attacks.
But it’s further proof that the belief, all too common among many Americans, that education or wealth can insulate someone from racist behavior has run well past its expiration date.