Saint Louis University investigates team’s racist texts

Jim Suhr
Associated Press

Kansas City, Mo. — Saint Louis University is investigating — and condemning — racially insensitive texts sent last year by two members of the school’s overwhelmingly white baseball team, a top campus diversity official said Tuesday, calling the texts “appalling.”

First reported last week by the school’s student newspaper, the texts were sent in May using the group messaging app GroupMe, with one likening President Barack Obama to a “watermelon eatin baboon.”

The two players haven’t been publicly identified, and one of them no longer attends the 198-year-old Jesuit school, according to Jonathan C. Smith, who was made the campus’ special assistant to the president for diversity and community engagement last year in the wake of the 2014 fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson.

“This case is being handled in a very rigorous, strong process that focuses on accountability, justice and enfranchising the voices of the students who have been harmed. We are nowhere near the end of that process,” Smith, an assistant professor of African-American studies, told The Associated Press. “I have to say clearly and unequivocally that we, at every level of leadership here, are appalled.

“We are in clear agreement that we find that speech to be racist, offensive and clearly unacceptable.”

The questioned texts came roughly a year after a pair of racially insensitive incidents on the campus: A group of candles set outside a dorm for a vigil were rearranged into a swastika symbol and a projector in a campus ballroom was altered to display several racist and anti-gay messages.

In the case of the baseball-related texts, two SLU students — including one who had a screenshot of the texts — reported the matter on April 4 to university’s Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity, Smith said. That started the investigation.

University officials have met with the baseball team and its coaches, and that no decision has been made about disciplinary action, Smith said.

Last week, the baseball team’s four captains signed a letter published by the school newspaper, The University News, apologizing “to anyone offended by the biased messages.”

“We, too, are frustrated, and we feel that the comments do not accurately reflect the values that we hold,” the letter read. “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. To ignore such an incident would be remiss and detrimental to the SLU community.”