Legal Insurrection has covered the closure of Oberlin College based on a false report of a “KKK-garbed” individual and the subsequent identification of two of its students for their involvement in hate-based graffiti.

Inside Higher Ed writer Allie Grasgreen talked to some school representatives for their explanation for their reaction to the events:

Some critics proceeded to mock Oberlin’s apparent overreaction…

But others say Oberlin was in a precarious position. The ordeal points to the ways in which incidents like those throughout February (multiple cases of intimidating notes, posters and graffiti) can influence – and in some cases, drive – institutional response.

“You can say this is a community response that was certainly precipitated by that one event, but I think it’s the larger context and series of events that’s the main driving force,” said Sean Decatur, dean of Oberlin’s College of Arts and Sciences. “It was the level of anger, fear, frustration that the community was already at that this report clearly fed into. In a sense, I’m not quite sure that I can even imagine separating the notion of a response to this one particular report.”

Decatur said Wednesday night that campus safety and Oberlin police still haven’t come to any conclusions about the report, which is still under investigation. The Plain Dealer of Cleveland reported Thursday night that the college has invited the Federal Bureau of Investigation to aid in the inquiry.

Colleges from time to time discover that they’ve been victim to a hoax hate crime, in some cases after huge statements and actions — from campus evacuations to vigils to speeches by college presidents – in response to an incident. Regardless of the scenario to which they’re responding, though, standard procedure is for college officials to fully investigate any seemingly legitimate allegation of harassment.

In the case of Oberlin, the question then becomes, how legitimate was the allegation?

W. Scott Lewis, managing partner at the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management, said that “without a doubt,” officials were thinking about the events of February when they decided to cancel classes. (Among the incidents, chronicled by The Oberlin Review: hate speech, at least one with a swastika, found in faculty mailboxes; physical assault and robbery of a student in which the assailant used a derogatory ethnic term; vandalism in campus buildings including swastikas and scrawling “Nigger” on Black History Month posters; and signs reading “whites only” above a water fountain, “Nigger oven” inside an elevator and “no Niggers” on a bathroom door.)

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