Three members of the Ardmore chapter of the NAACP staged a protest Saturday near the Paul Laird Field during the Southeastern Commencement.
They were protesting the disciplinary action by the university against students who took part in robbery hoaxes that were first reported to be real.
Elizabeth Williams, president of the Ardmore NAACP, said that five students who were disciplined over a robbery prank had their civil rights violated by the university.
“They were told they could not get legal representation with an attorney,” Williams said.
She also said that the first board hearing for the students was thrown out because one of the members used a racial slur.
On April 2, Durant Police began investigating what were first reported to be home invasions at residences near the SE campus. Later that day, Southeastern sent out an advisory via text message, email and telephone, that warned of armed home invasions that had happened near the campus.
Durant Police initially said three attempted robberies had been reported and that the victims said four or five black males wearing all-black clothing and masks over their faces had knocked on front doors. When the people opened the door, the males forced their way in at gunpoint, made all the occupants go into the living room, and demanded money and cell phones, although nothing was taken. Police also received reports of three additional attempts that occurred in the same area during the same time frame, but when the occupants saw the men outside, they did not open their doors.
The following day, police said the invasions were possibly April Fools’ pranks. The university later said two football players were suspended although it was not revealed why they were suspended and details were not provided due to student privacy rights.
So far, no criminal charges have been filed in the case.
“We’ve all made mistakes,” Williams said. “We do believe there are consequences to our actions, but this is not about punishment, this is about the denial of civil rights.”
Williams said one of the students was set to graduate and that he was locked out of his class and not allowed to take his finals.
According to Williams, the students contacted the NAACP after their suspensions.
“We take a very big interest in our college students,” Williams said. “They are our future.”
Also protesting were William Charles Smith, executive chair of the Ardmore NAACP and Arlene Barnum, legal redress for the chapter.
“We’re all retired veterans serving our country,” Williams said. “We served in battle and now, we are serving them here in our community. We want to bring awareness to our students who don’t know their rights.”
Williams said that depending upon the outcome of the case, a lawsuit could be filed against the university.
“We’re waiting on the president to make his decision,” she said.
When contacted Saturday, Alan Burton, director of communications for the university, said privacy laws prohibit the university from discussing any of the specifics in the case.