Update: Since this story ran in the May 6 issue of The Franklin, junior Patrick Clark has gone through a suspension appeal process. His initial suspension – enacted March 14 – was indefinite. Following a hearing on Wednesday, his suspension was defined by the college to last until winter term 2017.
According to his attorney, Maritza Webb, the ruling allows him to finish out this semester.
Webb said Clark will have the opportunity to appeal this second decision on Wednesday. As of Monday, Webb said she is unsure of how they will proceed.
Junior Patrick Clark has been suspended for one semester for sending Snapchats to other members of his recently suspended fraternity that his attorney calls “untasteful” but not harmful.
But sophomore and Diversity Advocate John Montgomery calls the images “blatantly racist and hurtful.”
Montgomery said one of Clark’s Snapchats was of a burnt piece of toast with a Black History Month filter overlaid.
Another was a photo taken of an Office of Diversity and Inclusion poster with guns drawn in some of the students’ hands or blunts in their mouths, he said.
“That’s when I realized this is something pretty sinister,” he said.
Montgomery said the photo he found most upsetting was taken of a table he sits at with his friends in the dining hall, where black student faces were covered with monkey emojis and a caption that read, “It’s a zoo in here.”
Clark was suspended on March 14 after a disciplinary hearing.
According to the college’s handbook, disciplinary hearings involve a community board made up of faculty, staff and students, as well as officers to oversee the process.
That’s where Clark’s attorney, Maritza Webb – who works at a local law firm – says things went wrong.
Webb said Clark’s hearing was informal and didn’t follow the college’s standard judicial procedures.
“[Franklin College] is simply persecuting Clark for private communications that expressed an opinion the school found objectionable,” she said in a press release. “The college now continues its crusade against Clark as it restarts the judicial process but still shows no intention of providing Clark with a fair and impartial hearing.”
Ellis Hall, vice president for student affairs and dean of students, issued the school’s original decision.
President Thomas Minar overturned the decision last week for a violation of procedures.
Since the original suspension and throughout the appeals process, Clark has remained on campus and attended classes.
Webb said the college cited harassment as a reason for his suspension.
The college’s handbook defines harassment as any offensive conduct that has to do with race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age or disability.
Examples of harassment outlined in the handbook include using derogatory names, putting up offensive graffiti or mimicking others, among other forms.
Clark was on the Dean’s List his freshman year and was a member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity chapter on campus before its suspension.
The chapter was suspended on April 6 for “a history of failing to adhere to organizational standards” – including its alcohol-free housing policy and chapter size requirements.
Webb said Clark’s suspension was a result of the fraternity’s suspension.
“The school’s actions suggest that the swift discipline taken against Clark may be no more than a token response to [the fraternity’s] suspension, leaving unaddressed serious incidents, including illegal behavior of which the school has direct knowledge,” Webb said in the release.
Webb said Clark was “one of several” fraternity members who were investigated – but has been the only one disciplined.
Webb’s goal is to have Clark’s suspension lifted, as she said it is not “appropriate or necessary.”
Clark declined to comment for this article.
Minar, Hall and Communications Director Deidra Baumgardner all declined to comment for this article with the following statement: “Due to federal regulations regarding student privacy issues, the college is unable to discuss individual student matters.”
Junior Zay Thorton said the issue goes beyond student privacy.
Thorton, Black Student Union president, initially spoke out about the suspension on his organization’s Twitter account Tuesday.
“Equality is what we are aiming for,” Thorton said in the tweet. “When an entire race is completely disrespected, we should not be concerned about privacy.”
Thorton said he has known about the suspension for two weeks but did not see the actual images.
“I’m making sure that it’s not swept under the rug, and people are aware of the situation,” he said. “It’s a situation that affected an entire race and every person of color on the entire campus. It needs to be talked about.”
Sophomore Alexis Bullock said she is friends with Clark on the app and saw his Snapchat stories firsthand.
Bullock said she approached Minar in early February about the images.
“I understand it’s free speech,” she said. “But it’s the fact that it was so harmful to a specific group on campus. These were students innocently sitting in [the dining hall] eating lunch.”
Bullock said she agrees with Clark’s suspension.
“Franklin College has a lack of diversity, but that isn’t something that can be solved overnight,” she said. “But to not tolerate racially motivated and bigoted language – that can be solved in a week.”
Junior Ryanne Wise – who saw screenshots of some of the Snapchats – said she also agrees with Clark’s suspension.
“It goes beyond personal privacy and freedom of speech,” she said. “Using someone’s appearance and sharing that with the Franklin College community is harassment.”
On a Facebook status Tuesday, Wise cited examples from the college’s handbook.
“[One thing outlined] is students who are bystanders to the situation and don’t report,” she said. “The sheer number of people who were on his Snapchat friends list who saw this every day and said nothing shows the systematic racism embedded into Franklin College.”
Correction 5/6/16: Clark has continued to attend class since his initial suspension on March 14.