University of Utah reports racist threats following slurs at BYU volleyball match

The U. said a Black faculty member was called the N-word while waiting for a train.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The University of Utah's campus pictured on Tuesday, July 19, 2022.

Coming shortly after national reports of racist slurs being yelled during a Brigham Young University volleyball match, the University of Utah said it also recently had two separate reports of racism on its campus.

The U.’s administration said the encounters — including threats to one Black faculty member — are “unacceptable.” In a letter to students and staff on Friday, the school said it is investigating and will hold individuals accountable by pursuing “the full extent of penalties possible.”

“This behavior will not be tolerated,” the U.’s senior leaders wrote in the joint letter.

The first encounter happened on Aug. 16 when a Black faculty member was called the N-word as he waited for his train to arrive to leave the school.

A white man approached him, the faculty member reported, while carrying what looked like a food delivery. The man asked him where the Receiving Building was and the faculty member pointed it out. When the man got to the building and found it was locked, he began yelling.

He called the faculty member “a lying n-----” and threatened, “I will kick your a--.”

According to a report from the U.’s Racist and Bias Incident Response Team: “The faculty member was afraid that the individual was going to run and come after him on the TRAX platform, but he luckily did not.”

The faculty member got on his train and called the response team to report the next day. He also later called campus police, which has opened an investigation. The U. has classified the threats as a hate crime.

The individual has not yet been identified. But campus police have increased patrols in the area.

The second account happened on Aug. 28. A resident of one of the dorms reported hearing a male resident in the laundry room making racist and sexist comments.

Any time a female student walked by, the resident would make a sexual remark, the report notes. He also shouted the N-word repeatedly, though not at a specific person, the U. said.

“Although the racist slur was not directed to any individual, this behavior was unacceptable, disruptive, and harmful to our community,” the report notes.

The student was reported to several officers on campus and will be reviewed for possible discipline.

The letter to the U. campus follows widespread attention on BYU this week after a Duke volleyball player said a fan yelled racist slurs at her while she was competing in a match at the Provo school on Aug. 26.

Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson, the lone Black starter on the team, has said she “very distinctly” heard a “very strong and negative racial slur” come from the student section while she was serving.

BYU has not said it doubts Richardson’s account, and it is still investigating. The school banned a fan identified by Duke for yelling the slurs.

After reviewing video from the match, BYU police said the fan did approach a player and “got in her face” after the match, but he does not appear to be the one who shouted the N-word at Richardson.

The report there has ignited debate in the community and drawn attention to the private school, operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including a response from another university pulling out of a game series with BYU.

BYU officials have said they’ve implemented immediate changes to address the issue, including more police presence at the next volleyball match.

In the past year, the University of Utah has also responded to additional reports of racism on its campus.

U. President Taylor Randall said in December that the school should have done better in responding to two incidents last year — 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.

The allegations drew attention 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 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.”

He did not sign onto the letter from administrators Friday, but that note did include a list of how the U. has bolstered its processes in recent months to respond to reports of racism. The school said it is strengthening its code of conduct for visitors and fans, which appears to be a nod to what happened at BYU.

And it also said it is escalating the consequences for students who are found to have engaged in racism.

“It falls to each of us to rebuild the lost support, security and sense of belonging that comes each time these incidents occur,” the administrators said.

The U. noted it has had four racist incidents on campus in the last year. That also includes a bomb threat at the school’s Black Cultural Center this January, as well as two students allegedly shouting a racist slur at a contract worker as he was making a delivery to a loading dock at the dorms in September.

The school said in its letter: “Until members of our Black community can work, and study, and live at the University of Utah without the threat of outsiders or insiders assaulting them with words and actions, it will remain unacceptable.”