Students frustrated with slow pace of investigation into racist Snapchat

Tuesday, March 27, 2018 - 3:44pm

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Design by Roseanne Chao

Two weeks ago, LSA sophomore Lauren Fokken, a student at the University of Michigan, sent a Snapchat of herself and another student in black face masks captioned “#blacklivesmatter.” The photo was screenshotted and circulated around social media, with the incident receiving attention from many students on campus who deemed it as blackface and racist.

Since then, there has been little progress from the University and the Bias Response Team in addressing the occurrence and the students involved. However, student groups and leaders have commented on having more discussion surrounding racist incidents.

University President Mark Schlissel, in a recent interview with The Daily, discussed actions the University has taken to address the incident. LSA sophomore Corrina Lee suggested a workshop for government representatives to better understand race and racism, especially with regards to racism on campus. 

“It’s being treated as an OSCR (Office of Student Conflict Resolution) violation of the Student Code of Conduct,” Schlissel said. “I think the way it will resolve is with some type of restorative justice but that really depends upon the people who brought forward the complaint and then the willingness of the students themselves who committed (this) really pretty terrible and offensive Snap, whether they’re in a place where they can learn from this and be remediated.”

With regard to racist incidents happening on campus in the past year, Schlissel wants to focus on having established structures for investigation and punishment.

“My job is to make sure that we have structures established and the right set of rules to make sure when bad events do happen, we can investigate them, attempt to figure out who’s responsible and then, once we’ve done that, find the appropriate punishment, be it restorative justice or on the other extreme, sanctions against the people who are responsible,” Schlissel said.

The LSA Student Government has also recently discussed taking action within LSA SG and on campus to tackle bias incidents in general, including the blackface incident.

And yet, student employees at Victors café have been left feeling their voices are not being heard after having been left out of the loop with regard to the investigation and Fokken’s employment status. Employees say Victors management has done little to address the incident and has not updated student employees about whether or not Fokken is still an employee. An anonymous Victors employee said they believed Fokken was still employed, though the circumstances are unclear.

“We don’t know the status of her employment,” the source said. “However, all of us here believe it sounds like she’s still hired. The dining workers said they can’t give an update on her employment, but one of my coworkers went down and told them we don’t feel comfortable with her working here.”

The source also said Fokken sent an apology email to all Victors staff through a work portal, but said it came across as insincere.

“She issued an apology,” the source said. “However, it didn’t quite look sincere and it made quite a few of us mad. It seemed like someone told her to apologize and basically wrote it for her.”

Victors manager Gerry Heiden declined to comment on Fokken and the incident.

“It honestly feels like they’re brushing it off still,” the anonymous source said. “The process is slow in general, but it feels like there’s no consequences. We feel like there were no consequences and she got away fairly easily, however, we don’t know the final outcome.”

Although he could not comment on specific details of the case without permission from Fokken, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said in an email interview BRT has been working to address the incident and extend assistance to students affected by the Snapchat.

“In this instance, the Bias Response Team offered support services to individuals impacted by the Snapchat post and to the specific individuals who reported the post as a bias incident,” Fitzgerald wrote. “Housing Diversity and Inclusion staff reached out to impacted residents at Mosher Jordan Residence Hall. In addition Michigan Dining professional staff have been in communication with impacted student employees in Michigan Dinning (sic).”

Fitzgerald also pointed to the public forum hosted by BRT and the Center for Campus Involvement last week to discuss how students can respond to bias incidents. Fitzgerald said this event is one of the efforts BRT has implemented in the wake of Fokken’s Snapchat.

Heather Young, strategic communications specialist for DPSS, could not comment further on reported threats and harassment Fokken has received over Twitter after her photo went viral online.

“At this time, we can not comment on the specifics on the threats Ms. Fokken has received because it's still an open investigation,” Young wrote. “However, any threats of violence or intimidation that create fear or threaten the safety of U-M students will be investigated by the appropriate authorities (law enforcement and/or the Office of Student Conflict Resolution). Any member of our community dealing with threats or intimidation can contact DPSS to assist with reporting and safety planning.”

Despite the progress in the University’s investigation reported by Fitzgerald and BRT, many Victors employees said they are discouraged and feel the best next step is to simply let the incident go.

“A lot of my co-workers don’t feel like talking to anyone because they’re saying she’s probably going to get away with it,” the source said. “Whoever they talked to, they said she technically didn’t break University policy. And they’re saying there’s nothing we can do about it, so we might as well let it go.”

However, not all employees are in agreement, and the source said they have been trying to convince coworkers they need to continue pushing the University to confront this incident, along with other racist incidents that have happened on campus.

“Just accepting things, that shouldn’t be the status quo,” the source said. “And if there’s no consequences, that just shows how the University feels.”