University of Utah President Taylor Randall says the school should have done better in responding to recent reports of racism on campus — including concerns about a group dressed as the KKK in a dorm and a Black student reporting what appeared to be feces smeared on their door.
“We regret that our process for addressing racist and biased incidents on our campus did not work as we would want it to and accept responsibility for this shortcoming,” Randall said, joined by the school’s other senior administrators in a letter to students and faculty sent out late Wednesday.
The two incidents drew attention late Sunday night after a student at the Salt Lake City school posted about them on Instagram, questioning why they still had not been addressed months after they occurred.
The school quickly condemned the acts, but acknowledged this week that its Racist and Bias Incident Response Team was never called in when they were originally reported in September and October. And, they said, housing officials closed the cases when the investigations were inconclusive.
Randall said in his response that the process was “not perfect,” and he is committed to “making it better.”
“We also are committed to doing more than communicating,” he added.
The president detailed several ways that the school will address the incidents, specifically, and make sure the responses to racism on campus are improved moving forward.
He said the Racist and Bias Incident Response Team, created in 2019 to respond to and investigate racism on campus, is supposed to be called in when cases are reported. The first thing Randall says will happen is raising more awareness of the team in campus departments so they can and will be involved sooner.
Randall also pledged to conduct a comprehensive audit of racist incidents that have been reported on campus over the last year — reviewing and analyzing how each was responded to and how students were informed.
He anticipates the results of that audit will be released in March 2022 and that the school will implement any recommended changes.
The school will also better support equity, diversity and inclusion groups on campus — including in departments and student groups, Randall said.
He asked that students, in the meantime, report any racist or hateful behavior directly to the Racist and Bias Incident Response Team. Students can do that through an online form at diversity.utah.edu/initiatives/rbirt. They can also ask questions by emailing RBIresponse@utah.edu or calling 801-581-7066.
Members of the group represent departments across campus, including the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion team, university police, the counseling center, housing, facilities management and the student body.
If there is an immediate issue that needs a police response, students can call campus police at 801-585-2677. There also is a list of resources available online, including support for anyone who has been impacted by racism to talk about it.
“Be certain that we will continue to work as a campus community to make the necessary changes to guarantee our communities of color, and our Black community members in particular, feel safe across campus and especially in their living spaces,” Randall said.
He added that the school will not tolerate racist or hateful behavior. “We will continue to monitor these incidents and will hold identified perpetrators accountable,” the president noted.
The two reports that spurred his response are also currently being investigated by campus police.
In the first incident, which occurred on Sept. 1, a Black student reported returning to their dorm room to find it covered in a brown substance, with a paper towel lying on the handle, according to a U. spokesperson. The student believed it was feces and cleaned it off with the help of staff.
The U.’s housing office reviewed footage around the day and couldn’t see anyone approaching or at the door. The school spokesperson, though, said the cameras might not have covered the specific area. They have not publicly identified which dorm the student lived in.
The student was immediately moved to new housing.
In the second case, which happened on Oct. 1, an RA reported overhearing some students in the same dorm building talking about seeing some men dressed in KKK attire in the residence hall trying to recruit students to a white supremacist group. The U. again looked through three days of video but did not find anything fitting that description, the spokesperson said.
After that RA’s report, another student’s report from the same day was added to that file. The student reported finding a substance they also thought was feces smeared on their door. The spokesperson initially thought it might be a car door, but later said they were not sure. The student did not immediately contact police, and the school hasn’t been able to corroborate that report.
The U’s Housing & Residential Education office also put out a statement Wednesday, saying its staff “responded quickly by conducting internal investigations and providing resources to the impacted students.”
However, the statement continues, “it is clear that we need to do more and that we can be better. We fell short by not being more transparent with our housing community and by not being more collaborative with our partners and colleagues across the U campus.”
The officials there echo Randall’s proposed changes to improve the process moving forward and including the racist response team.
Additionally, the office states, it will retrain all housing staff and student leaders in January on how to respond to reports of racism.
The incidents are the latest to happen at the school. The university also opened a case in September after two students allegedly shouted a racist slur at a contract worker as he was making a delivery to a loading dock at the dorms. The students then apparently threw sunflower seeds and coffee pods at the worker.
The worker immediately reported the interaction to university officials, who were able to identify the students responsible “and hold them accountable through the conduct process,” according to an earlier statement from the U.
Prior to that, in January 2020, a car was marked with the N-word on campus — shortly before the celebrations of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
University officials say the graffitied racial slur was done by someone pressing their finger into the frost on the car’s windshield and was not permanent. They identified multiple individuals involved, according to a statement from the school, and took “appropriate actions.”
The school — as well as others in Utah — has had issues recently with white supremacist groups coming to campus, hanging up posters and stickers and trying to recruit new members. That came to a dramatic head in February 2019 when Identity Evropa, which is designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, hiked the hill to the concrete block U above the university and laid down a banner that declared, “End immigration!”