SDSU admin hears public outcry after racist messages


Gracie Terrall, News Editor (She/Her)

An investigation last month was triggered by a photo posted to social media of a bathroom mirror in Young Hall with a racist message written on it.

The tweet of the message, posted by a Black South Dakota State University athlete Jan. 14, was filled with expletives, including the n-word. The post read, “Found this in the bathroom tonight. But I’d be wrong if I retaliated.” The photo circulated fast around campus with 602 likes and 99 retweets.

The student who posted the initial tweet was unavailable for comment.

Current and former SDSU students spoke out, saying the message was an “outrage” and a “disgrace,” with demands that something be done through the university.

Vice President of Student Affairs Michaela Willis sent out a campus-wide email the following morning confirming an investigation was underway.

“Our core values involve being people-centered, valuing diversity, creativity, integrity and excellence,” Willis said. “What occurred was not consistent with our core values and something like this happening in our university is upsetting. It is important that when things like this happen, they get reported and that we follow up with an investigation.”

The investigation is being conducted through the Equal Opportunity (EO) and Title IX office on campus. At this time, it is unknown whether the investigation is still ongoing.

Although university officials did not provide specifics about this incident, Michelle Johnson, director of the Equal Opportunity office, said that this is how a general racial discrimination case would be investigated by her office:

Reach out to informing party and collect their information

Determine if an investigation is necessary

Speak with witnesses and responding party

Gather evidence through text messages, social media and information students present

Preponderance of evidence suggests claim is true

If party responsible is a student, the case is sent to Willis’ office for student conduct review

As for consequences, they can vary depending on the severity of the situation. This can range from a required assessment by a counselor to suspension or expulsion, Willis said.

“As humans, we don’t always behave in a kind and respectful manner,” Willis said. “When a situation happens in our resident halls, we ask ourselves as leaders, ‘What kind of education are we providing in our residence halls?’ and ‘Are there some additional things we need to do?’”

One thing that the administration hopes to focus on is not punishment, but working with students to educate and rehabilitate them.

“College is the place where we’re going to challenge you and your thought process,” Kas Williams, chief diversity officer, said. “Are students going to mess up? Yes. But are we going to chew them up and spit them out? No, this is an opportunity to educate the entire campus community.”

Overt racial discrimination cases do not often come up at SDSU, Johnson said.

“We hear more about microaggressions and biases,” Johnson said. “Where people might not feel welcome someplace or they might feel shunned, but there’s not a whole lot of overt actions.”

When they do come up, however, SDSU works with the victims, people responsible and campus as a whole to better promote inclusivity and acceptance.

Some of the programs in place are guest speakers in classes, panels and events open for the entire campus.

“We have to continue to work together, live together and go to class together, and we need to do that in a space we all feel comfortable doing that in,” Williams said.

Anyone with more information regarding the incident is asked to contact the Office of Title IX/EO at 605-688-4128. An anonymous report may also be completed through Lighthouse.