The Ohio Civil Rights Commission is fortunate to have the Rev. Aaron Wheeler as chairman. His recent response to a potentially volatile situation at Kent State University should be commended.
After an offensive Daily Kent Stater column mocking African-Americans was shown to Wheeler by his son, who attends Kent State, the chairman took immediate action. He set aside his schedule and arranged a series of meetings on campus. The university is a better place because of this.
In his Dec. 10 story on the matter (“Civil rights official responds to KSU student column”), Beacon Journal reporter Stephen Dyer implied that, at Wheeler’s pay grade, he had better things to do than spending the day at Kent. Having been in the meetings, I can say this assertion is off the mark.
In fact, Wheeler was an adept listener and facilitator who brought parties together for needed cross-racial dialogue. The meetings, while heated at times, were in no way hostile, with several black student leaders acknowledging the writer’s point while decrying his methods.
Editorial wisdom, common civility and respect for diversity were the issues of the day, not freedom of speech.
Wheeler personified the dignity of past civil rights leaders like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, who refused to wait for “the right time and place” to demand decency. His timely action sent a clear message: Black students deserve better, and no university can tolerate behavior that creates a hostile environment.
Taxpayers got their money’s worth from this dedicated public servant. Wheeler’s work at Kent State was invaluable.
Julia A. Shearson
Director, Cleveland Office
Council on American-Islamic Relations