Donald Williams, an 18-year-old Black freshman attending San Jose State University in California, has discovered that his well-being and personal safety are not a concern or priority for his classmates and the administration who respectively harassed him and turned a blind eye to his complaints.
Williams filed a $5 million lawsuit against SJSU on Monday. The basis of the suit, officially processed by Williams’ attorney, Carl E. Douglas, is that the university failed to protect the teen from further incidents of racial bullying after he made initial complaints.
“When there can be this level of bullying at San Jose State University, a bastion of progressive thought, that should be a bellwether for everyone nationwide,” Douglas said.
According to police reports, emails and court documents, Williams reported several incidents of harassment dating as far back as September 2013. The incidents, initiated by his four white roommates, included: flying the Confederate flag and displaying Nazi imagery in the dorm room; physically scuffling with Williams and fastening a U-shaped bicycle lock around his neck; and calling him ‘three-fifths’ — a term used during the pre-Civil war area to describe slaves as three-fifths human in census records.
These occurrences, which mirror deleted scenes of director John Singleton’s film “Higher Learning,” were not enough to get the attention of Charles May, a student housing assistant, who knew about them and failed to respond. It took a formal complaint by Williams’ parents to the university before attention was given to his claims.
An investigation is ongoing.
“I want there to be a conversation started by the filing of this claim,” Douglas said. “There are issues of racial intolerance, of bullying and of harassment running rampant in universities and colleges across this nation.”
The president of SJSU, Mohammad Qayoumi Williams has reportedly apologized for the university’s negligence.
Three of Williams’ former roommates, Colin Warren, 18; Joseph Bomgardner, 19; and Logan Beaschler, 18, have all been suspended from SJSU and are facing criminal charges.
The fourth defendant is a minor, therefore details about his case are private.
Although a statue was erected on campus in 2005 honoring the activism of SJSU alumni Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the track stars who famously lifted the Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics, the university has not crossed the finish line for racial acceptance.
Williams’ case is yet another example of the legitimacy of initiatives like I, Too, Am Harvard, a play-turned-social justice campaign that is bringing awareness to areas of racial insensitivity on behalf of Black students on predominantly white college campuses.