Our view: Silencing a teaching moment

DKS Editors

On Feb. 8, Sam Wheeler played a key role in perhaps the most exciting win of the Kent State wrestling team’s season. Against Northern Illinois, the Flashes’ six individual victories, including one by Wheeler in the waking hours of the meet, gave them a tie-breaking advantage over the Huskies and a 19-18 victory.

Two days later, Wheeler was suspended indefinitely for tweeting a number of anti-gay slurs, the most damning of which regarded NFL hopeful Michael Sam. At the time, it was a move called “accurate” and “warranted” by PRIDE! Kent president Brandon Stephens.

Wheeler’s absence at the MAC Championships might have marked the end to a story that attracted national media attention and rendered a Google search of Wheeler’s name a veritable catalogue of the various outlets that picked up the scoop.

But the story doesn’t end there. In an open letter drafted on Feb. 24 by PRIDE! Kent’s executive board, the organization called for the end to Wheeler’s suspension. The letter sought to frame Wheeler’s suspension as “less of a matter of punishment and more a matter of education” and expressed anxieties that “this suspension may feed into even greater separation of social circles.”

Wheeler is currently undergoing an “educational plan” through the diversity, equity and inclusion office. PRIDE! Kent had asked to be a part of this process but was denied.

While we believe that the athletic department had no obligation to include PRIDE! Kent in Wheeler’s “educational plan,” we do believe that the letter, and the athletic department’s decision to effectively ignore it, pose a number of questions about the nature of Wheeler’s suspension and what university officials hoped to accomplish with it.

Wheeler’s actions warranted a response, and the response from the university was swift and commendable. But PRIDE! Kent’s desire to be involved in the aftermath was understandable. After all, the organization represents those who were actually targeted by Wheeler’s words.

The whole episode created a lot of negative buzz around the university, even catching the attention of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church. Did Wheeler’s suspension continue in response to the persistent national attention paid to the incident? We will never know.

But we do know that efforts were made to make the process as inclusive as possible, and that those efforts were effectively ignored. We believe that education, not punishment, is the most effective means at confronting the issues that lie at the heart of the incident. The “separation of social circles” identified by PRIDE! Kent’s letter will never be closed without inclusion.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.