I Almost Broke His Jaw, Mom

(Whistling Wizard Ring Tone)

“Mom, I have to talk to you. Do you have a minute?”

“Of course, sweetheart, what’s up?”

“I got into a bike accident today. I was riding around the bike paths near the Engineering building and rounded a turn. The other guy was pedaling on my side of the path. It was such a sharp turn that I couldn’t avoid him. I T-boned him, did an endo over my handle bars and landed flat on my back.”

“Gracious! Are you OK?”

“Just road rash. A bunch of people gathered around us to make sure we were OK. Mom, this guy picked up his bike and started cursing me. He was in the wrong bike lane and he started cursing ME out! I had the wind knocked out of me, and everyone kept asking me if I was ok. This kid called me all sorts of names, and I got madder and madder as I tried to fix my chain. Finally, I knew if he didn’t shut up I was going to break his jaw.”

“(gulp) So what did you do?”

“Nothing. Neither of us were hurt.  He rode off first, while I was still messing with my chain.  Good thing, too.”

“Wow, I am really proud of you. I was expecting you to say you punched him in the face.”

“I almost did.”

“Sounds like he deserved it. You do realize though that you’d be in a very different position now if you had punched him.”

“I know, I know.  Still, what an idiot!”

By now you certainly can guess this is Christopher in this exchange. What happened after this incident is not something that makes me proud of  DU, my alma mater.  Shortly after that, Christopher received a link via his DU email. Simply a link. Thinking nothing of it, he mentally shelved it until the weekend, which was four days away. During the next four days, he received another link, which did not grab his attention either.

Over the weekend, he decided to clean up his email. As he clicked on the links, he was amazed to realize that he had been issued a disciplinary summons by the DU Student Conduct Office. The other student involved had made a report accusing Christopher of behaving in a way that was ‘inconsistent with the core values of DU student conduct.’ The other boy had  (falsely) stated that Christopher had caused the accident, left the scene of the collision first, and had caused significant damage to his bicycle.

The Conduct Office had scheduled a hearing less than 48 hours from the issuance of the first link. As Christopher had no idea this was anything other than a simple collision,   it never dawned on him that the Conduct Office would get involved.

He had missed the hearing because he did not open the links the day they were sent.  As a result, he had been awarded a ‘guilty’ verdict and had to write a paper in which he  essentially admitted to his ethical  failings as a student and how he could change them.

Should he choose not to write this paper, he would not be permitted to re-enroll the next quarter, and an academic hold would be placed on all his records.

We were flabbergasted.  This was a bicycle crash.

“What should I do, Mom?  Hell will freeze over before I admit I did the wrong thing. I just didn’t.”

“I agree. We’ll figure this out together.”

In the days that followed, we were met with one disappointment after another. Appeals were denied, holds were enacted, and it didn’t seem like we were getting anywere.

Finally, I talked to one of my very dearest friends, an attorney in Denver. She explained to me the difference between a ‘real’ and ‘perceived’ hurt. Christopher might possibly have his chances hurt as a transfer student with this on his record at DU. He was actually hurt by a denial of re-enrollment for winter quarter.

It was the  “actual” hurt that gave us the right to sue.  The DU conduct office kept insisting that this was not a legal matter, and furthermore they did not encourage students to involve their parents. The office even refused to talk to me, as Christopher was their ‘customer’. (Hmm, and who is it that writes those checks?)

Armed with that information, we got remarkable results.  Regrettably, I informed DU that should they not review this decision, it would become a legal matter, and I would pursue it to the end. An appeal was suddenly granted. Christopher informed them in writing that he expected that I would be allowed and included in the decision, as permitted in the Conduct Handbook.  He met with the Provost of Student life, and she reversed her decision about excluding me and acted with the Office of Student Conduct the next day.

Essentially, the decision was  reduced to almost nothing. Christopher had to write some silly 500 word essay about the importance of law in society. He did so and the hold was removed.

There are many things about this event that are striking. First off, if anyone has a reason to be full of rage and mad at the world right now it is Christopher. Or anyone of my children, for that matter.  Losing his father at such an important time in his life would be a heavy burden for anyone to bear.  Yet he has adapted to college life successfully, and even flourished. This incident demonstrated that in spades.  He acted rationally even in the face of great temptation to go off on someone who richly deserved it.  He was respectful of the balance of power in a situation like this, while still standing up for his rights.  He learned when to let go, and to continue going down the right path.

I must say I am a mite proud of myself as well. The tempatation for combat at this stage of our loss is great. To fight for any kind of justice after losing such an unjust fight as cancer is certainly a worthy effort. But you have to do it the right way, respectfully and completely unyielding when boundaries are violated.

Nice work, son.



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