Black student leaders met with interim LSU president Tom Galligan and other school administrators for over an hour Monday to resolve the university's heavily criticized initial response to an incoming student who was caught on video yelling a racial slur.
LSU's initial response, students in attendance said, made it seem like there was no process in place to hold the incoming student accountable. But, during the meeting, Galligan and school administrators assured the students such a process was indeed in place for students who make blatantly racist remarks.
Galligan did not disclose the specific consequences, if any, the incoming student will face, citing privacy protections under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act; but the student leaders presented a list of changes they wanted made to LSU's student code of conduct that would cover future scenarios and provide more clarity and explicit language that pertains to offensive language towards minority groups.
"Changing or editing or revising the code of conduct is positive," said Devin Woodson, a 20-year-old junior and co-chair of the LSU Black Male Leadership Initiative. "But to end racist speech anywhere in America, especially at a university level, it has to be more than just the wording. We have to make sure we're keeping everyone accountable."
On Friday, Drew Dollar, a confirmed admitted student at LSU from West Monroe, was shown in a shared video on Twitter yelling, "I hate n******."
Skai Jackson, an actress and author, shared the video plus Dollar's Instagram account and asked followers to call and email his school. "Someone like him shouldn't be able to attend college," Jackson posted.
Jackson's video had 541,200 views as of Monday evening.
Dollar's Instagram account is now either private or deleted. Attempts to reach Dollar were unsuccessful. In another shared video on Twitter on June 4, Dollar posted another private or deleted video in which he said:
"Um. F***. I can't do nothing about it. I can't do nothing about it. I mean, if you actually, like, knew me, knew me, you'd know that's not actually what I, like, think. It's literally just like a meme, which is obviously bad. I know that. But, yeah, you're right. I can't deny it. Just please have some mercy, yeah, please."
LSU's official Twitter account responded to several complaints about the video with a repeated statement that included a link to a complete statement.
"To be clear, we at LSU condemn hate and bigotry in any form, including racially incendiary remarks," the statement read. "As a state university, however, we are subject to constitutional limitation on our ability to take action in response to free speech."
LSU's tweet was met with widespread condemnation from alumni, former and current LSU athletes and students.
It also threatened to undermine the efforts Galligan and LSU administrators made to engage the campus' black community in the midst of nationwide protests against police brutality and racial inequality.
Last Wednesday, Galligan stepped in the middle of a circle of about 300 people at a student-organized protest, BlackOutLSU, near Middleton Library and said into a loudspeaker "black lives matter."
"So I pledge," Galligan said then, "for as long as I am your interim president, that I will work with you to do something about it. All right? And the place to start is home, what can we do on our campus to make it a better place."
LSU's initial response also struck a nerve within a community that had experienced racism on campus for decades — most of which dealt with the same issue of speech.
In September, a student was accused of insulting other students with racial slurs at a football game at Tiger Stadium. LSU's now-disbanded Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity members regularly hung racist public messages on banners on football game days. The happenings were regular enough, that, in November 2015, a hanging wire from a tree was mistaken for a noose.
"I do believe it's building up," said Stewart Lockett, 23, who was LSU's third black person to be Student Government president. "I think it's going to build up to a point and people are going to be so frustrated, they won't be able to take it any longer."
Cambryn Crier, president of the LSU Chapter of the NAACP, helped organize BlackOutLSU, which assembled black student leaders and opened up a dialogue with LSU administrators.
They agreed to meet via Zoom on Sunday, and, when the social media fallout occurred with LSU's initial response, they agreed to meet on Monday. The coalition will meet again on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Monday's meeting had 20 members, and, along with Galligan, school leadership included LSU Board of Supervisor Chair Mary Werner, board member Robert Dampf and executive vice president and provost Stacia Haynie.
Within the meeting, LSU leadership apologized for the tweet. The university also posted an apology on Twitter late Monday night. Restricted by privacy laws, they only reassured the student leaders that there was a process in place within the school's student code of conduct.
Galligan said in an interview with The Advocate that LSU "will, in fact, investigate every incident of racist behavior that we learn about and we will take action if appropriate under our student code."
LSU's student code says the school "has the legal right to establish standards for academic and personal conduct for continued membership in the University community, to deny membership to those who do not meet these standards, and to impose outcomes and discipline on any Student who is found in violation of these standards.”
Law experts say several public universities have such language in student codes, but, since they are public schools, and therefore attached to the state government, any school rule is trumped by federal law, including the First Amendment.
Ken Levy, an LSU law professor, said if Dollar is denied admission, LSU could expect a First Amendment lawsuit. Jonathan Peters, a faculty member at the University of Georgia School of Law, said court cases, such as Papish v. Board of Curators (1973), have set precedent that Dollar could indeed win such a suit.
If Dollar is denied entry, it could set a precedent for infringement upon other types of speech assumed to be free under the law.
However, the University of Florida, dealing with a similar issue, announced Monday night that a prospective student who posted racist comments on social media "will not be joining the University of Florida community this fall."
Florida, dealing with a similar issue, announces that its prospective student will not be joining campus in the fall https://t.co/idZK1Mi3uY— Brooks Kubena (@BKubena) June 9, 2020
But if such a student were indeed admitted to LSU, how would Galligan reconcile that decision with his pledge to black student leadership?
"I am committed to change," Galligan said. "I can't, again, speak on individual cases. And, so, I can say that I am committed to change. I'm also committed to the value of free speech. But free speech is not unlimited."
"Maybe the better way to put it is the right to speak is not unlimited," he continued. "It is very protected, but under the appropriate circumstances, it may be regulated."
Yet, some black student leadership have made it clear that allowing Dollar to attend LSU would prove contrary to the school's promises for racial justice.
"He literally said he hates n******," said Devin Scott, an 18-year-old sophomore, who is LSU's Senate Vice Chair of Student Life, Diversity and Community Outreach. "Once you go that far and it’s blatant that it’s coming out of a place of hate and not out of you disliking something. It’s no slippery slope at all. It’s just clear as day that this is hate speech and he should not be allowed to come to LSU."