The University of Pennsylvania dropped racial harassment charges against a white student who called a group of Black women “water buffalo.”
1993 (May 24)
The University of Pennsylvania dropped racial harassment charges against a white student who called a group of Black women "water buffalo." The incident occurred near midnight on January 13, 1993. A white student named Eden Jacobowitz was trying to study in his dorm room when he was disturbed by members of a Black sorority who were singing and making noises outside his window. He leaned out and shouted, "Shut up, you water buffalo!" The angry women, who said they also heard other racial and sexual slurs but could not tell where they came from, complained to campus police. They tracked down Jacobowitz, who readily admitted that he had made the "water buffalo" comment. (Born in Israel and educated at a Jewish school, Jacobowitz said the words "water buffalo" had come to his mind because a Hebrew word meaning "water oxen" is used to insult thoughtless and disorderly people.) But he denied saying anything else and insisted that his remark had referred to the funny noises the women were making, not to their race. University officials disagreed and ordered Jacobowitz to write a letter of apology to the women. They also told him he could be put on dormitory probation and that a note would be added to his student file indicating that he had violated the university's code of conduct on racial harassment. Jacobowitz refused to agree to these terms and instead demanded a hearing before a group of students and faculty. Before the hearing could be held, however, the charges against him were dismissed when the women withdrew their complaints. They said their case had been undermined because they had never had the chance to tell their side of the story. Jacobowitz, on the other hand, had attracted national media attention with his version of what had happened.