Racial slurs case remains unsolved three months later


Photo Courtesy of Jamal Johnson

More than three months after two incidents of slurs targeted a black first-year student, Pitt has not been able to identify the perpetrator or group of perpetrators who committed the acts.

By Jon Moss, News Editor

More than three months after two rounds of slurs targeted a black first-year student, Pitt has not been able to identify the perpetrator or group of perpetrators who committed the acts, according to University spokesperson Kevin Zwick.

Zwick said the inquiry into the incidents remains open, and that a Pitt police report was filed Oct. 10, 2019.

“Racist comments run in stark contrast to the University’s values and mission, and we remain dedicated to supporting an inclusive, safe and welcoming environment for every member of the Pitt community,” Zwick said.

But Jamal Johnson, the targeted student, said he was frustrated by the lack of progress from the University.

Still nothing solved and didn’t really even go a step forward,” Johnson, an English writing and political science double major, said.

The first slur appeared in the early morning hours of Sept. 25, 2019, written on a bulletin board on his Holland Hall South floor, where he lived at the time.

Johnson said he found the statement “Jamal = Aunt Jemima,” equating him to the black female character serving as the face of a breakfast food company, which many consider to be an offensive embodiment of racist stereotypes. Johnson met with residence hall officials that week about the writing.

Pitt’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion opened an investigation and also hosted an education session for his floor, including a discussion around microaggressions and how to combat them.

Pitt’s Office of Residence Life also contacted Johnson and offered to move him to a different residence hall. At the time, Johnson declined the offer and said that if he left, the perpetrator might feel that their behavior was acceptable.

Another slur appeared on Oct. 8, 2019, this time written on a blackboard on the floor. Several floor residents had written their names Scrabble-style on the board, and someone wrote “Aunt” before Johnson’s name, apparently referencing the Aunt Jemima character again.

Johnson, a native of west Philadelphia, said he expected college to be different from home, but did not expect to deal with incidents of racism directed at him.

“I came to college just to get my education, not to have to deal with being targeted in my own residence hall,” Johnson said.

Edenis Augustin, a former Black Action Society president and current president of both the National Pan-Hellenic Council and the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity, said it was “definitely disheartening” that the case remains open.

“I actually forgot that the issue was not even resolved based on how little follow-up I heard from it,” Augustin, a senior psychology major, said. “I’m optimistic that it’s justice delayed, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was [justice denied].”

Johnson moved across Fifth Avenue from Holland to Nordenberg Hall in late October, after finding it difficult to keep returning to where the statements were written.

“I just dreaded walking and staying in the building everyday,” Johnson said.

Pitt community members with information about the case can contact the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at 412-648-7860 or the Pitt police at 412-624-2121.

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