Two Wrongs Don't Make a Bill of Rights · 04 February 2004

Filed under: Press Coverage

Two Wrongs Don't Make a Bill of Rights

By Jim Spencer--Denver Post, 02/05/04

Oglala Lakota medicine man Robert Cross stood in the snow outside the King Center at Metropolitan State College on Wednesday morning. He waved an eagle feather over a bowl of burning sage.

"What I'm going to do," Cross said in English before praying in his native language, "is ask that anything negative be taken away. There's a lot of nonsense going on here."

Now, there was an understatement.

Cross had just finished "spiritually cleansing" the office of Metro State political science professor Oneida Meranto from the death threats and hate mail Meranto claims conservatives have aimed at her as part of their push for an academic bill of rights.

Now, Cross was poised to "cleanse" the entire Auraria campus of the right-wing scourge.

I was prepared to laugh off the conspiracy theory, when a young man walked up. He looked to be in his 20s. He wore a tie, pinstriped pants, some kind of hair product and those skinny, rectangular black plastic-frame glasses that are popular with the under-30 set.

I didn't know his name, but I recognized him from a news conference state Rep. Shawn Mitchell held last week to explain why Colorado needs a law to stop discrimination against conservative college students.

"What do you think of this?" the young man asked.

"I think it's as crazy as the conservative coming-out party they held at the University of Colorado yesterday," I said.

"Yeah," he replied, "I don't know whether to report this to the dean or the loony bin."

Then he turned on a tape recorder to make sure he captured Cross' remarks.

The report-to-the-dean remark and the tape recorder reminded me how crazy this whole academic bill of rights business has become.

"We've had a lot of things going on," said Michelle Rose, the 29-year-old president of Metro State's Native American student group, "things against Dr. Meranto."

Walking in a procession behind Cross, Rose kept her 3-month-old son, Tucker, buttoned inside her wool coat. She wanted to protect the infant from the falling snow. But she also wanted to make a point: Charges that Meranto discriminated against Metro State's Republican club are false.

So she and her group invited Cross to come to Metro State and pray for cleansing.

Rose said she would have no problem if televangelist Pat Robertson showed up next week to bless college Republicans.

"That's fine, as long as they're not infringing on my rights," Rose said. "I'm not forcing anyone to be here.

"In Native culture, we have ceremonies to bring people together in the community" where bad things happen.

Some of those at Wednesday's ceremony had no idea that anything was wrong.

Crystal Fitches said she came with her world music and literature class. She knew Cross was cleansing her school, but she didn't know from what. "We're just here to observe the ceremony," she said.

"We're talking about American Indian music and ceremony" in class, adjunct professor Lisa Cook said. "There isn't so much of a political (motive)."

Cross scrupulously avoided politics in speaking to the crowd. He talked of healing, the value of teachers and the need "to get to know each other culturally."

"We are all related," Cross reminded the small crowd. They moved to four points and faced north, west, east and south. "Everything from the beginning of time until now."

His prayers and incantations ended beneath American and Colorado flags in the center of campus. They were all positive.

"You didn't hear anything negative," said Meranto, who talked about death threats in an e-mail announcing the cleansing. "He never used names. He never made accusations."

Meranto says accusations that she tried to run Republicans out of the Metro State student government association are false.

Metro State administrators have yet to rule. It's time they did.

As the right wing tries to prove left-wing bias, higher education in Colorado turns into theater of the absurd.

Monday's conservative coming out at CU-Boulder featured 20 students proclaiming their political proclivities to a cafeteria full of kids who could have cared less.

Next week, this same tortured minority is scheduled to host an "Affirmative Action Bake Sale." Republican state Sen. Ed Jones of Colorado Springs, who is black, is supposed to sell cookies to nonwhites at a cheaper price than he sells them to Caucasians. This, organizers promise in a news release, "shows the flaw of affirmative action."

Perhaps to CU's college Republicans. The rest of us are still scratching our heads.

But nothing was more confusing than the spectacle of a Sioux spiritualist leading a crowd of 60 people around Metro State, exorcising the school's conservative demons with a smoldering bowl of what smelled exactly like pot.

Except maybe a guy with a tape recorder doing a bad impression of an FBI agent.

Jim Spencer's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.