Student organizations call for expulsion of Pitt student who sent violent, racist threats

Student organizations call for expulsion of Pitt student who sent violent, racist threats

By Janine Faust and Jon Moss

Leaders of several Pitt student organizations sent a letter to Pitt administrators Friday morning calling for the expulsion of Ethan Kozak, a rising junior political science major, according to a tweet sent Friday afternoon.

The tweet was posted by Pitt’s Black Action Society and contains a copy of the letter, which was signed by SGB President Zechariah Brown, and the president and vice president of both the Black Action Society and the Rainbow Alliance, among others. According to Brown, the letter was sent to Chancellor Patrick Gallagher, Provost Ann Cudd, Vice Provost and Dean of Students Kenyon Bonner and Senior Vice Chancellor for Engagement Kathy Humphrey.

Kozak admitted earlier this week to sending racist and threatening Snapchat messages to D.J. Matthews, a 20-year-old Pittsburgh resident. Matthews posted screenshots of the messages on Twitter on June 26.

In the screenshots, messages from Kozak include threats to shoot Matthews, who is black, “legally… just like George Zimmerman,” and use derogatory language such as the “n-word” repeatedly. Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed, 17-year-old black Floridian, in February 2012.

“I thought all this sh*t was in the past, but it seems like it’s not,” Matthews said in the tweet. “We have no more room for racist a**holes so if you ain’t got something nice to say don’t say it.”

Kozak initially denied having sent the messages, claiming someone had taken or hacked into his phone, but later admitted he sent them to Matthews in a fit of anger. Kozak said on June 30 he had been placed on interim suspension and would be meeting with the Dean of Students, Kenyon Bonner, this week. He also said in an email sent on June 30 he is meeting with the University’s Office of Student Conduct. The University would not confirm these claims.

The letter from the student organizations said members of Pitt’s black community had been discussing Kozak’s messages, and were outraged.

“His use of racist, homophobic words including ‘cotton picking n****r’ and ‘f****t,’ inhibit the mission of the University’s Code of Conduct,” the letter said. “Allowing Kozak to return to campus would be a glaring mistake as he would remain an ongoing threat to Black students.”

Kozak declined to comment on the letter in a Friday phone call.

The letter also asserts the Student Code of Conduct does not properly address students who “incite violence” against other students on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, or certain other classifications — none of the conduct’s 40 violations specifically mention these classifications.

To remedy this, the letter called for the University to develop a “strict policy” for these types of situations.

“Clearly outlining the qualifications of hate speech, how it differs from free speech, the steps the University would then take to address the incident and the repercussions a student or faculty member may face, would make clear to students that their health and safety is being prioritized by the University,” the letter said.

The letter also said the University should provide statements that directly address incidents of discrimination and harassment, as opposed to “automated” statements.

“When a Pitt student makes hateful comments and threatens the life of another student on the basis of their skin color, we would prefer that the University provide a response that directly addresses the incident,” the letter said. “At the bare minimum we would like the statement released by Pitt to ‘call a spade a spade’ and acknowledge the issue at hand.”

The University’s Twitter account, @PittTweet, responded to Matthews’ screenshots of Kozak’s messages the day they were posted, calling the content of the messages “contrary to the University’s core values.” Pitt responded again the following day, June 27, calling the messages “offensive and egregious” and said the University and law enforcement were taking “appropriate responsive action.”

[Read: Provost, dean of students respond to letter calling for student expulsion]

Provost Cudd and Vice Provost and Dean of Students Bonner released a response Saturday evening to the letter. They said they were thankful for students writing to them, and appreciate the calls to “continue creating a respectful, peaceful, diverse, and safe learning environment.”

The following 27 individuals signed the letter:

  • Jordan Fields, student leader
  • Edenis Augustin, president of National Panhellenic Council
  • Jenea Lyles, president of Black Action Society
  • Diamond Buadu, vice president of Black Action Society
  • Mabel Amara, president of Anointed Steps of Faith
  • Nia Henry, vice president of Anointed Steps of Faith
  • Theresa Lim, vice president of external affairs of Asian Students Alliance
  • Robby Holiday, Black Men’s Collective
  • Dakota Arnold, BRIDGES
  • Abigail Coombs, president of Carribean and Latin American Student Association
  • Dara Broadnax, president of Ignite: InterVarsity’s Black Campus Movement
  • Janet Canady, National Society of Black Engineers
  • Jessica Sprouse, Nursing Students Association
  • Liam Ruby, president of the Interfraternity Council
  • Lexi Gilhorski, president of Collegiate Panhellenic Association
  • Evelyn Okorie, president of Pre Medical Organization for Minority Students
  • Ruby Barone, president of Rainbow Alliance
  • Cassie Paterson, vice president of Rainbow Alliance
  • Daphny Milord, president of RISE
  • Daniel Rudy, president of Resident Student Association
  • Nneoma Uzoukwu, vice president of RISE
  • Leah Johnson, Some of God’s Children Gospel Choir
  • Zechariah Brown, president of Student Government Board
  • Jahari Mercer, former executive vice president of Student Government Board
  • Morgan Ottley, member of Student Government Board’s Allocations Committee and BRIDGES
  • Mica House, member of Student Government Board’s Allocations Committee and Pathfinders
  • Cedric Humphrey, member of Student Government Board

This story has been updated with University comment.