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Lincoln campus calm after melee, but suspicious of outsiders Pa. university agrees to improve security

THE BALTIMORE SUN

LINCOLN UNIVERSITY, Pa. -- Students at the nation's oldest traditionally black college shut down their campus for two days last week, boycotting classes, manning barricades at the gates and blocking buildings.

They said they'd had enough -- enough violence stirred up by outsiders, enough of reporters out to make their school look bad.

Hundreds of students gathered in a lecture hall last Sunday afternoon and agreed to pull a human curtain around the campus, to send a message to the administration that security must be improved. The night before, a group of men had driven on to campus armed with baseball bats and triggered a melee in which 16 people, including 12 students, were injured.

One student government representative, asking not to be identified, said it was only the latest in a series of episodes illustrating poor campus security.

All is back to normal now at the school, where 1,300 undergraduate and graduate students -- 95 percent of them black -- study amid the rolling cornfields of southern Chester County just across the Maryland line from Cecil County.

Classes are back in session after the Monday and Tuesday boycott, television and newspaper reporters have gone and the administration has begun work to improve security.

The administration has agreed to build a new security booth and gate at the campus' middle entrance, to install security phones on each dormitory floor, put phones in every room at student expense, repair damaged locks on dormitory doors and to examine the "competence and preparedness" of the security force.

What remains, however, is apparent suspicion of the world outside the campus' stone gates. Students and administrators have thrown a cloak of silence on details of the Saturday-night fight:

* School spokesman Gordon Hesse said Thursday that the university's director of public safety, Daniel Showers, had yet to piece together a detailed account of the disturbance. He said he would try to provide more information Friday. On Friday, Mr. Hesse called in sick. Mr. Showers continued to refer all questions to Mr. Hesse.

* University President Niara Sudarkasa provided a Sun reporter with press releases and newspaper clippings about the episode, but after granting press interviews earlier in the week, said she was not available for questions.

* Campus police would not release names of students involved in the fight or the men who drove on to the campus, none of whom was arrested.

* Student government representatives declined to discuss the identity of students involved. Several women outside the dorm where the incident began told a reporter Thursday that they either were not on campus Saturday or did not know details of the disturbance.

This much is clear: A minivan and a car bearing New York license plates drove onto the campus early Saturday evening. They drove to Lorraine Hansberry Hall, a women's dormitory on the edge of the 422-acre campus. David T. Haines, the Student Government Association president, said he was told that 12 black men were in the two vehicles. Mr. Hesse said he believed between eight and 10 men were involved. Mr. Haines said some of them carried baseball bats.

Mr. Haines -- who said he was not on campus Saturday night -- said some of the men "were agitating some of the female students."

A fight broke out between students and the outsiders in a yard outside the dorm. Mr. Hesse said he was not sure, but he believed the disturbance "moved around the campus."

At 8:40 p.m., state police at the Avondale station, eight miles from the school, were called to assist campus police. Station commander Lt. Michael Kazlo said five troopers in five cruisers were sent. One police officer arrived about 8:30 p.m. from the borough of Oxford, about two miles from the university.

Sixteen injured people were taken to two hospitals. At Southern Chester County Medical Center in West Grove, nursing services director Diane Torello said that 12 people were treated for cuts, bruises, "bumps and lumps" and that by the end of the week all had been released. A spokeswoman for Brandywine Hospital and Trauma Center in Caln Township said four people were treated for minor injuries and released the night of the fight.

Newspaper and television reporters appeared on campus Sunday to cover the story. To Mr. Haines, it seemed another case of the press leaping on a chance to portray Lincoln University in a bad light.

"It's a shame the only time the press is interested in Lincoln University is when something negative is happening," said Mr. Haines, a 21-year-old senior.

"Lincoln University has a rich heritage, a rich history," he said.

The school -- established in 1854 by a Presbyterian minister -- has graduated author Langston Hughes and former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Among its alumni are Ghana's first president, Kwame Nkrumah, and Nigeria's first president, Nnamdi Azikiwe. This Tuesday, the school welcomes guest speaker Chinua Achebe, a Nigerian novelist, one of many prominent figures from black civic, political and cultural life who regularly visit the campus.

Both Mr. Haines and Mr. Hesse complained that these events get far less media attention than the recent history of campus violence. In April 1990, a state trooper was accidentally shot in the chest by a Lincoln security officer during a pursuit of a drunken-driving suspect. And last October, seven people were sent to the hospital after a fight following a concert.

Mr. Haines said the October incident was also triggered by people from outside the school.

Thus, students felt it was time on Monday to take a stand and demand better protection from the 21-member campus security force.

As the students blockaded the campus from before dawn Monday to Tuesday evening, Mr. Haines discussed students' demands with the school president and other administrators. Reporters were barred from the campus and students refused to answer questions.

On Tuesday evening, Mr. Haines and Ms. Sudarkasa walked arm-in-arm out of their meeting to announce an agreement on security and the end of the blockade. A release said both sides acted in "the spirit of family" to end their dispute. Mr. Haines still taunted the press, though, leading the crowd of students in shouting refusal to reveal students' demands or the university's response.

On Thursday, however, Mr. Haines gave copies of both to a Sun reporter.

By Friday, work had begun on the new security gate leading out onto Baltimore Pike to the quiet back roads of the Brandywine Valley.

A sign announced the coming appearance of Mr. Achebe, whose first novel, "Things Fall Apart," told how the arrival of European missionaries triggered the collapse of tribal order in a Nigerian village. And the outsiders were outside, and the students were inside, and Lincoln University was quiet again.

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