Incidents of Race-Based Bullying Highlight Need for Prompt and Effective Responses by Educational Institutions

Incidents of Race-Based Bullying Highlight Need for Prompt and Effective Responses by Educational Institutions

by Olabisi L. Okubadejo and Daniel V. Johns

Educational institutions are advised to audit their procedures for investigating and responding to race-based conduct in light of recent news reports about incidents of bullying, hazing, and racial harassment.

Media reports have indicated that there have been a number of incidents of race-based name-calling at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. Various news outlets have also reported that an African American student at San Jose State University allegedly was subjected to racial harassment by his roommates in their on-campus dormitory. The incidents reportedly included race-based name-calling, writing of a racial epithet on a dry-erase board in the dormitory, and physical conduct. The student’s roommates have been charged with hate crimes.

There also have been press reports of incidents at other educational institutions that involved defacing of multicultural student housing, conduct by student groups that could create a hostile environment based on national origin, and hazing. Even more widely reported has been the alleged race-based bullying by a professional athlete that may have caused a teammate to leave the team. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Justice has announced that a former Tennessee high school football player has pled guilty to making racially motivated threats to an African American assistant football coach. Educational institutions should be aware that similar conduct may be occurring on school sports teams.

Schools have obligations under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to take prompt and effective action in response to incidents of racial harassment and other race-based conduct in their programs and activities. This generally requires investigation of reports of bullying, hazing, and harassment that is racial in nature and may require action by schools even where law enforcement has become involved. Educational institutions also must take steps to provide interim relief to the complainant and address any effects on the larger campus community.

The recently reported incidents highlight the need to have in place a process for responding adequately to incidents of harassment on campus in a manner that quickly determines what occurred while ensuring that the complainant is safely able to access the school’s programs and activities, including campus housing and athletic teams. The incidents also draw attention to the need for training programs for school staff, including resident advisors and the athletics department, regarding expectations and responsibilities to report race-based conduct.

Members of Ballard Spahr’s Higher Education Group have experience conducting investigations of alleged racial harassment, bullying, and hazing incidents, and in providing related training and compliance advice. For more information, contact Olabisi L. Okubadejo at 410.528.5532 or okubadejoo@ballardspahr.com, or Daniel V. Johns at 215.864.8107 or johns@ballardspahr.com.


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