LOGAN, Utah (ABC4) — A former graduate student is suing Utah State University after faculty members allegedly made racist comments about him and drew a racist caricature of him on a computer.
The lawsuit filed on Monday, March 20, claims that Gregory Noel, a Black Haitian American student who reportedly graduated from USU in 2020, had repeatedly been discriminated against by faculty members during his studies at the university.
A lawsuit only tells one side of a story.
In October 2018, Noel was allegedly working on a school assignment in a private study room at USU when the computer lost four pages of his assignment. Noel reportedly cursed and pushed a rolling chair aside out of frustration. No one was in the room with Noel, the lawsuit stated.
One week later, Noel met with his program director and a professor, who allegedly said they were concerned Noel would be “violent towards others.” The director reportedly asked Noel, “Was that [incident] you going full Haitian?”
Then, the director allegedly told Noel that if he wanted to stay in the program, he would need to go to therapy to get his anger “under control,” the court documents stated. Noel reportedly agreed and signed up for counseling sessions at USU’s psychological services department.
The lawsuit alleges the director followed up days later and made sure Noel signed up for additional therapy provided by non-USU counselors.
On Jan. 20, 2020, the director reportedly drew a “coon” caricature of Noel on his computer during class. The caricature was then allegedly displayed on the classroom board for other students to see. The lawsuit claims that the image depicted an individual with dark skin, exaggerated features and hair similar to Noel.
A final investigation report issued on August 26, 2020, revealed that the Office of Equity found “a preponderance of the evidence that the offensive caricature Respondent drew was intended to depict Complainant and the exaggerated features were included based on Complainant’s race and/or color.”
Therefore, the Office agreed that the image created a “hostile environment” for Noel. However, university officials said there was not enough evidence to show Noel had been discriminated against based on his race with the caricature.
The lawsuit states that the director was issued a written reprimand on Jan. 14, 2022, but the Provost of USU withdrew the reprimand on May 5, 2022.
ABC4 reached out to representatives of USU for comment, and they responded with the following statement:
Utah State University’s goal in all cases involving a potential non-discrimination policy violation is to address and prevent discriminatory behavior, while providing a fair, respectful, and equitable process for all parties.
In this case, as in all cases, the university followed its non-discrimination policy, procedures, and process to their conclusions and dedicated significant resources to the matter, including through the grievance process, working with alum Gregory Noel one-on-one to hear his concerns, and providing supportive measures. Noel graduated in spring semester 2020.
When the Office of Equity finds a policy violation through an investigation, sanctioning for a faculty member falls under the faculty code, not the Office of Equity, and faculty members may request a review of a reprimand by the Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee as provided for in USU Policy 407. The committee’s decision is final under the faculty code.
Utah State is committed to creating a working and learning environment free from discrimination and creating a culture of belonging. The university has created a Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and hired its first vice president to address these efforts. Additionally, USU recently released a Roadmap to Inclusive Excellence.
Individuals who have experienced or witnessed potential violations of the university’s non-discrimination policy may report these concerns to the Office of Equity. Individuals may also seek support through the Social Climate Support Team for an incident of bias.
When plaintiff attorneys seek to use the media to litigate their cases and reach out to the media before the university even receives notice of a lawsuit, the public should be aware that they are getting one set of facts from one perspective.
View the lawsuit below: