The two Saint Louis University students who brought to light some SLU baseball players’ racial slurs met with university president Fred Pestello on Tuesday, April 19.
“It’s wasn’t the meeting we were hoping for,” said Dominique Morgan, the African-American SLU freshman who filed the bias incident report against the players. “We were hoping to talk about the investigation. They were set on talking about restorative justice, which sounds more like a negotiation. We are not too optimistic.”
On April 4, Morgan filed the complaint after seeing a screenshot of a private messaging group conversation among SLU baseball pitchers, where one player called President Obama a “f—ing watermelon eatin baboon” during the team’s trip to Washington D.C. in May 2015.
Her boyfriend, SLU senior Brenden Twomey, was the baseball team’s manager from spring 2014 to early 2015. In March this year, Twomey, who is African-American, showed her the screenshot of the conversation while they were flipping through old pictures on his phone.
Since filing the report, the two students have faced retaliation at Twomey’s home and now have filed the equivalent of campus restraining orders against all team members.
“Our senior leadership is completely appalled by the hate speech,” Jonathan Smith, the special assistant to the president for diversity and community engagement and an assistant professor, told The American. “We are going to do whatever is necessary to make this into a better institution.”
Morgan and Twomey told Pestello on Tuesday that they wanted the baseball players who wrote the remarks to be suspended, for all the players to enroll in black studies classes, for the coaching staff to undergo diversity training, and for the team to undergo a self-imposed ban on post-season play.
Smith said the restorative justice process is “student-driven” and both sides would have to agree to those repercussions.
It has already been a “hard year” for black students, said Stefan Bradley, director of African-American Studies and associate history professor.
“This culture has either been created or cultivated or maybe even neglected – not just in the baseball team,” Bradley said. “It’s largely a university problem, and it speaks to this idea that we admit a certain type of student that feels comfortable speaking like this.”
Morgan already knew she was transferring out of SLU when she filed a bias incident report, she said.
“This isn’t my first go around with racial incidents on campus,” she told The American.
Last semester, her white roommate hastily moved out of their dorm room because “she wasn’t ready to live with women of color,” according to what the residential staff told her.
So she wasn’t surprised when her boyfriend showed her a screenshot of racially-charged texts from the SLU baseball team’s pitcher-only group chat.
The texts were sent through the messaging application GroupMe in May 2015, while chatting about where to eat in Washington, D.C.
In the chat, one of the players wrote: “I heard they got a colored running the country.. This Tru?”
“Unfortunately, it is,” said another player.
“F…ing watermelon eatin baboon.”
Twomey declined to provide the American with the names of the players on the chat.
One of the baseball players sent Twomey the screenshot soon afterwards. Twomey was angered by it, but he didn’t know how to address it through the university, he said. When Morgan saw the chat last month, he said she knew about the bias reporting process and was glad that she filed a complaint.
“It’s never too late,” Morgan said, “and honestly I’m just tired of seeing people get away with racism and people who have no respect for others put on a pedestal at this school.”
A day after she filed it, the two students met with Tyler De Shon, assistant director of the office of student responsibility and community standards, who said he would relay their concerns.
Smith said the report went straight to his desk.
“After it was reported, I began the process of talking with students, staff and students on both sides,” Smith said.
However, after a week, Morgan and Twomey said they hadn’t heard anything from Smith or any other administrator. In fact, the first time Smith met with the students was Tuesday with Pestello – more than two weeks after they filed the report.
On April 11, the students contacted several people, including Bradley, the Black Student Alliance and student activist Jonathan Pulphus. That day, Pulphus posted the screenshot of the pitchers’ chat on Facebook and wrote about the incident.
That night, Twomey said Darin Hendrickson, the head baseball coach, called him and said he was just made aware about the incident from the Facebook post – not from an administrator.
“It was disheartening,” Twomey said. He thought it was obvious that no investigation had taken place if the coach was learning about the incident on social media.
“He told me he was aware of [the team’s] cultural problem of immaturity, entitlement and privilege,” Twomey said. “He also said he wished he could recruit more players that had tougher backgrounds.”
‘Empowered and safe’?
On April 12 at 4 a.m., Mona Hicks, associate vice president and dean of students, emailed Morgan, saying that she received the report and wanted them to feel “empowered and safe.”
But that day, Morgan and Twomey felt the tension rising on campus.
They were walking to class and passed a group of baseball players and their friends. They said the group stopped talking and glared at the couple as they passed. The next morning, Twomey said he woke up to tobacco spit on his door inside his apartment and in the kitchen. He said a cloth that he used to clean his glasses had nails in it.
Twomey’s roommate is on the baseball team, and he said there was no sign of forced entry.
Hicks provided them a safe space for a couple days, and Twomey’s roommate has voluntarily moved out. Although they were grateful for Hicks’ assistance, they were angry when they saw on April 14 that Hicks was quoted in the student newspaper as saying that she did not believe that the racial slurs they reported “met the criteria for adjudication.”
“Essentially, these baseball players have, unsurprisingly, proven that Saint Louis University is not committed to being an institution that ‘inspires and prepares students, faculty, and staff to create communities unburdened by discrimination and oppression,’” Morgan said, quoting from the university’s statement on diversity.
And that mission is the very reason Morgan and Twomey chose to come to SLU, despite its relative lack of diversity, they said.
On April 14, the four co-captains of the team – Michael Bozarth, Josh Bunselmeyer, Matt Eckelman and Braxton Martinez – sent a letter of apology to the SLU community. It was not sent directly to Twomey or Morgan. They said one of the captains was among the group that glared at Morgan and Twomey just two days before.
“In light of the incident, the SLU baseball program and athletic department are working to actively address and thwart any action that threatens our inclusive community,” the letter stated.
This racial incident is hardly the first Twomey has witnessed on the baseball team, he said. He remembers walking into a party when a former captain was telling a story about “n—gers.” When he saw Twomey, he apologized. And the player who wrote the racist remarks has been seen rolling down his car window and yelling “n—ger” to African-American drivers, Twomey said.
Bradley said that students have had problems with the bias incident reporting process since it began. And students have also questioned SLU’s process of restorative justice, he said.
“When I look at the communication about ‘restorative justice,’ I can’t help to think that it’s still about the baseball players and not about the young man and woman who brought it to light and making sure those young people are feeling safe and welcome,” Bradley said.
“The people who have stood up for what’s right have been put upon the most, and they are the ones feeling most uncomfortable. The administration is feeling uncomfortable. But it seems to me with the baseball players suiting up and playing, they are not feeling uncomfortable about any of this.”
Follow this reporter on Twitter @rebeccarivas.