A former Howard University student expelled from the school is suing the historically black college and university, alleging racial discrimination and creating a hostile learning environment stemming from his comments and old tweets.
The $2 million lawsuit by Michael Newman, who is white, makes several claims the school is not as inclusive as it boasts.
Newman attended the HBCU from December 2019 until September 2022 to study law at Howard University’s School of Law. During that time, he claims he felt “utterly disenfranchised, ostracized, humiliated and vilified,” according to his lawsuit.
His problems began during a class discussion in the lead up to the 2020 election. He said in a message, “Where I part with the Black community is where they believe government solves problems, I only see it causing problems,” Newman wrote.
He went on to say Black voters didn’t question turning to the government for solutions to problems. He also claimed Black voters voting for the same political party every election cycle “disincentivized” Democrats and Republicans from responding to issues important to African-Americans.
Newman’s comments ignited a months-long onslaught of backlash from his fellow classmates. He claims his classmates found his remarks offensive. Newman then claimed he apologized and asked to better understand why his comments were so problematic to his predominantly Black classmates.
The lawsuit claims the response from his classmates caused him to be removed from the online group chat used for class-related discussion. He said he felt “anxiety and depression” and possessed “suicidal thoughts” as a result of the ridicule he received from his class peers.
Newman tried to remedy his relationship with his peers in a four-part letter explaining his apology and line of thinking for why he suggested Black voters over relied on the government. The response was swiftly rejected by students who called his letter a “manifesto,” and he was nicknamed the “Mayo King” and “White Panther” thereafter.
Newman contacted Howard University’s administration seeking help for his alleged racial discrimination. He wanted reassurance his “status as a Caucasian student” was equal to Black students on campus. Howard University School of Law Dean Danielle Holley responded and met with Newman over his concerns.
The lawsuit accuses Holley of “secretly recording” their conversation over Zoom. Newman also accuses Holley of telling him to transfer to another school and asking fellow students not to interact with him.
Newman also claims Holley accused him of racially harassing his classmates. The claim referenced a tweet from Newman’s Twitter account from July 30, 2020, that landed the white law student in more hostile territory after it surfaced.
According to the lawsuit, the tweet shows an image of an emancipated enslaved man named, “Gordon” which shows his scarred back. Newman reportedly captioned the tweet by saying, “But we don’t know what he did before the picture was taken!”
Amid more negative reactions from fellow students once his tweet was unearthed, Newman was accused of “terrorizing students,” and he was called “entitled,” the lawsuit says. He tried to explain away his tweet to further tamp down ridicule.
“…My point was ironic, in response to Americans who attempt to explain away videos of police brutality by claiming that the victim must have committed wrongdoing before the video started that justified the violence,” Newman wrote.
“This shouldn’t need mention, but like you, I view what happened to this man as unconscionable. That you think I would condone physical abuse or slavery shows you know less about me than you could learn by one phone call. You know how to reach me,” Newman’s comment continued.
As the tweet added fuel to the hostility, Holley hosted a virtual town hall where students largely discussed Newman and pressed Holley to expel him.
Newman claimed his grades suffered as a result of his alleged racial harassment. In July 2022, the university investigated Newman’s racial harassment claims as well as claims made by Holley who asserted he racially harassed other students by using the school’s mass email platform for his “manifesto” letter. Newman faced reprimand for alleged racial harassment, and he asked school officials if students protesting housing conditions were not facing expulsion how could he.
“Would the university be in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act?’ Holley warned Newman that filing a Title VI cause of action against the University ‘would be very negative for you in terms of your own career,’” the lawsuit says.
The university decided to expel Newman, claiming he “had not shown contrition throughout [his] student conduct process,” according to the lawsuit.
Atlanta Black Star contacted Howard University for comment regarding the allegations within Newman’s lawsuit, but our requests were not immediately returned.
The school’s vice president and chief communications officer told The New York Post the school is “prepared to vigorously defend itself in this lawsuit as the claims provide a one-sided and self-serving narrative of the events leading to the end of the student’s enrollment at the University.”
We will continue to update this story as it develops.