Monday, April 3, 2017

His Name Was Kenneth Crump, a UNCG LGBT+ Special Post

The Carolinian. Dec. 2, 1982, p. 1
There are many rumors and urban legends relating to the history of The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG). Along this line, you may have heard someone mention that a student committed suicide by jumping from the ninth floor of the Jackson Library tower. This is neither a rumor nor an urban legend. A UNCG student did jump to his death from the tower early one morning in 1982. His name was Kenneth Crump.

Kenneth Graham Crump was a twenty-one year old freshman at the time of his death. He lived in Strong Dormitory, although his family lived close to Greensboro, residing off of Sandy Ridge Rd in Hickory, North Carolina. There is no photograph of Kenneth in the student yearbook or The Carolinian, but he was described as being a small, young man, weighing roughly between 120 to 140 pounds. He was a dance major, and according to his ballet instructor, “Kenny was a hard worker and seemed to be a natural dancer.”[1] Kenneth’s roommate described him as a lover of “opera, ballet, and French horn, which he played.”[2] Few people on campus knew Kenneth personally, but he was known to have a circle of friends off campus.

Kenneth shattered the glass from the Elliott University Center-facing window, near the elevators, on the ninth floor of the Jackson Library tower around 1:00 am, Monday November 22, 1982 and jumped to his death. His body was discovered by custodian, William Peters, who found Kenneth asleep on a sofa on the seventh floor of the tower shortly after midnight. Kenneth awoke and spoke for a few minutes with Peters until he excused himself to go to the restroom. It was not until Peters went to the ninth floor that he found the broken window and looked out to see Kenneth’s body lying below.

The Carolinian and the News and Record described Kenneth as being psychologically ill, in addition to being stressed from financial problems. In the three sentence announcement of Kenneth’s suicide that was published in The Carolinian ten days after his death, the writer mentions that Kenneth “…was under doctor’s care for apparent emotional problems.”[3] The News and Record provides more detail, reporting that Kenneth’s father said his son was being treated for psychiatric problems and that Kenneth was worried about being able to afford remaining enrolled at UNCG because of money issues.[4]

The Student Government Association Senate requested additional funds from the state to support UNCG’s Counseling Center after Kenneth’s death. The idea for the resolution was submitted by Pat Richardson, the senator for Strong Dormitory.[5] Interestingly, although the media portrayed Kenneth’s suicide as being the result of some form of psychiatric disorder that could have been treated through counseling, Rev. Joseph Flora (pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Greensboro and faculty sponsor for the Gay Student Union), asserted in an article responding to the initiative to improve the counseling center after Kenneth’s death, “Yes, we definitely need more staff for our counseling and testing center… Yet, we must be aware that the death of Kenneth Crump was not related to this problem.”[6]

In the “Letters to the Editor” section of the issue of The Carolinian mentioning Kenneth’s death, Lesa Y. Williams, a UNCG student and friend of Kenneth, asserted that the reason for Kenneth’s despondency and consequent suicide was that he was being bullied by residents of Strong Dormitory for being gay. She stated, “He lived in Strong dorm and some of the guys who stay there were glad that Kenneth was dead! Kenneth’s sexual preference was different from theirs, so they were delighted that he had jumped from the library.”[7] Presumably in protest of Williams’ perspective (as it does not specifically mention Kenneth or a suicide), the letter immediately following was signed by a list of male residents from Strong Dormitory and maintained, “We do not live in ‘Hell Dorm.’ We haven’t lived there for years. We appreciate publicity as well as good fiction. We do not care for lies, liars, exaggeration, innuendos or muckraking journalism. This is the word of one hundred good men.”[8]

From 1979 through the early 1980s, Strong Dormitory held a reputation as an unsafe residence hall for LGBTQ+ students. Only three years prior to Kenneth’s death, the dormitory was the site of a hundred person protest during which masked students setting off firecrackers gathered in the courtyard in front of the residence hall, waving protest posters, and shouting slogans such as, “Queers, Fags Go Home,” “We Are Men, We Are Men, We Are Men,” and “Dames Not Flakes.” The protest was held because the graduate counselor for Strong Dormitory, concerned about repeated reports of homophobic harassment in the dormitory, organized an educational seminar focusing on homosexuality for students. One of the two speakers at this seminar, titled “Homosexuality and Society,” was Rev. Joseph Flora.

Tragically, little memory remains of Kenneth Crump on the UNCG campus, aside from the whispers one hears that someone may or may not have committed suicide by jumping off the Jackson Library tower. The only memorial to Kenneth’s life or death on this campus are the thick, wooden rails blocking the plexiglas windows of the Jackson Library tower.

[1] Allen, Leslie and Mark MacDonald. “Student, 21, Dead after Fall from Library,” Greensboro News and Record. November 23, 1982, p. A2.
[2] Allen, Leslie and Mark MacDonald. “Student, 21, Dead after Fall from Library,” Greensboro News and Record. November 23, 1982, p. A2.
[3] “Student Jumps from Library,” The Carolinian. December 2, 1982, p.1.
[4] Allen, Leslie and Mark MacDonald. “Student, 21, Dead after Fall from Library,” Greensboro News and Record. November 23, 1982, p. A1.
[5] Alexander, David. “Senate Seeks Finds for Counseling,” The Carolinian. December 2, 1982, p.1.
[6] Flora, Joseph and Jon Hensley. “Something to Be Learned,” The Carolinian. December 2, 1982, p.2.
[7] Williams, Lesa Y. “Letters to the Editor,” The Carolinian. December 2, 1982, p.2.
[8] One Hundred Good Men. “Letters to the Editor,” The Carolinian. December 2, 1982, p.2

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