“I was livid, furious,” said Elijah John, a Black student at Kennesaw State University after seeing his image used in a GroupMe screenshot with a caption reading, “Need to call the Klan to solve this issue.” The person who posted that was another KSU student who shared a class with John.
The screenshot was only one among a plethora of racist images in different GroupMe chats, which included memes that disparage Muslim and Jewish people and racially slur Black people.
John met with school officials Feb. 18 and was told that the racist student had voluntarily transferred out of the class they shared. John told officials at this meeting that did not do much to solve the issue of blatant racism.
John then met with the Office of Institutional Equity and was given two choices. One option placed John and the racist student on an “equal” basis, with them sitting down with mediators to try to come to a “solution” that would “benefit them both.” One solution suggested community service for the racist student.
The other option was a more formal investigation to see if the racist student had crossed the line and violated KSU’s anti-discrimination policy.
John says he is going with the formal investigation: “I want the student expelled from school. Switching classes is not enough. It’s just sweeping the problem underneath the rug and pretending it never existed. If KSU claims that it does not tolerate racism, then they need to punish this kid.”
John also mentioned that someone at the Office for Institutional Equity whom he spoke with asked him if he thought the racist image of him was a joke.
‘Fight for dignity and rights’
Further concern about safety for Black students at KSU was raised Feb. 19 as rumors circulated that white supremacists were going to shoot Black students on campus. An alert sent out by the KSU Police Department claimed there were “no credible threats to our campuses.”
This claim did not quell worries around campus of a potential shooting.
In addition, the KSUPD had not notified students that a student was found to have a handgun in his backpack until after the situation had occurred.
Faith Broughton, a psychology major, said, “There is a huge lack of concern and regard from the university, and specifically [from] our emergency responders. … We could have at least been warned to take precautionary steps.”
John said he is networking with the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the campus activist group KSUnited to help him get his story known.
KSUnited is a group that was started after the #takeakneeKSU movement. According to leader Alexa Vaca, it exists “because we understand the importance of having students, faculty, staff and alumni coming together to work on changing policy at KSU. We also want to act as … watchdogs of administrative suppression. Our mission is to fight for the dignity and rights of students, faculty and staff in minority groups.”
When asked about the screenshot attacking John, Vaca replied, “We were not surprised whatsoever about the screenshots because we know this is the culture at KSU and this is not an isolated incident.”
She continued, “It shows how the KSU administration has been complicit in letting a hostile environment fester. … How can minority students be comfortable and safe and active in their community when they’re working and studying in such a hostile environment?”
Racism at KSU is nothing new. Black cheerleaders were kicked off the cheerleading squad when they took a knee to protest racism in the U.S.
A Black student’s car tires were slashed and a noose was hung outside a housing building.
KSUnited has a list of demands they want to see met by the university, including building an anti-racist center and ensuring students, faculty and staff are educated on issues of diversity before being able to attend the university.
The anti-racist education center has been promised for at least five years, but has still not been created.
KSU President Dr. Pamela Whitten sent a vague email to the student body saying that diversity is encouraged at the university. So far, Whitten has not attended any campus meetings at which issues of racism at KSU are addressed.