Student sues for handling of racist incidents

The suit claims WSU violated Title VI and IX in their handling of racial incidents in 2015

IAN SMAY, Evergreen news editor

A student has filed a lawsuit in federal court against WSU for its handling of an alleged racial incident at a fraternity in February 2015.

Dominique Stewart, a then-18-year-old African-American student at WSU, attended a party at the Phi Delta Theta fraternity on Feb. 21, 2015, when a member of the fraternity allegedly called her a racial slur, according to court documents.

The way WSU handled this and other instances of racial abuse violates Title VI and IX, Stewart alleges in the lawsuit.  In their filing for the university’s alleged violation of Title VI, Stewart’s attorney wrote, “WSU is a hostile environment,” and said the university violated the laws by not providing reasonable assistance.

The Office for Equal Opportunity at WSU launched an investigation into the claim two days later. Following a hearing, the fraternity member in question was kicked out of their chapter and the university, according to court documents.

This incident, along with other similar actions and the lawsuit itself, caused Stewart difficulties in her time at WSU, Anne Bremner, Stewart’s attorney, said.

“It’s been very difficult of course for Dominique,” Bremner said. “What should have been the best four years of her life were really problematic.”

The lawsuit stems from allegations related to a meeting with then-WSU interim Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Melynda Huskey. In the meeting, Huskey suggested to Stewart and her mother the idea of finding a different place for housing without providing assistance with finding alternative housing.

Huskey also told Stewart’s family nothing could be done in response to requests for Stewart to be escorted to class or other security measures, Stewart claims in the lawsuit.

Stewart alleges Huskey gave the police chef’s number to Stewart instead of contacting the chief herself, a violation of federal law, according to court documents.

Stewart suffered another racial abuse in March 2015, when a vehicle carrying white males allegedly threw a piece of chicken at Stewart while calling her the n-word and sexually-charged slurs, according to court documents.

Stewart called WSU Police in response to the incident, who then directed her to Pullman Police, who Stewart claims were indifferent to the incident and told her to try to find the license plate associated with the car in question.

The OEO issued a memo regarding the first incident on April 9, 2015, which said the fraternity member violated WSU policy, according to court documents.

Stewart also claims in her filing that then-President Elson S. Floyd agreed to meet with her, but then gave her a “victim-shaming, racially-divisive lecture” where he said they should have known better.

Phil Weiler, Vice President for Marketing and Communications at WSU, wrote via email that the university acted swiftly in response to the incidents.

“Once the university became aware of the incident at the Pullman campus, we took immediate action to investigate and address the concerns raised,” he said. “Like all institutions of higher education learning today, WSU recognizes we have more work to do as part of our continuing efforts to enhance diversity and inclusion across campuses.”

Stewart requested a jury trial in her latest filing, asking for damages and attorney fees from the university, according to court documents.

The lawsuit also alleges the university violated the Clery Act in not reporting or investigating the crimes.

Weiler said the university tried to settle the matter privately, but the two parties were “too far apart” to come to an agreement, while Bremner said they spent “considerable time” trying to resolve the issue, but the attempts went unsuccessful.

Bremner said Stewart filed the suit not only for her own reasons, but also to protect others.

“We filed the suit because my client…is seeking justice not just for herself but for others that may be in a similar predicament in the future,” she said.

The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District Court of Washington on April 16, according to court documents.

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