UCPD crusiers_2022

University of Cincinnati Police Division cruisers.

Logan Johnson, graduate student trustee for the University of Cincinnati (UC) Board of Trustees (BOT), Wednesday posted a letter on Instagram received by her academic advisor, Antar A. Tichavakunda, expressing vehemently racist and genocidal views, sparking university-wide shock and condemnation.

The letter had repeated use of the N-word and other racial slurs, proclamations that "America must be ethnically cleansed" and comparisons of former First Lady Michelle Obama to "apes, chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans."

"I've struggled with what it means to be a Black scholar. The pursuit of knowledge is valuable, yet Black scholars and thus their scholarly work is rarely protected," said Johnson in her post. "Now, I watch as my advisor endures the same treatment with the same type of follow-through from the institution."

Johnson then wrote about her experiences in graduate school, having dealt with racism "ranging from professors stealing paper topics for their own publications, switching Ph.D. programs because faculty were racist and death threats." 

Johnson said that "institutions send emails condemning the behavior, which does nothing for Black scholars." Over 4,000 people have liked Johnson's post. 

As of now, only UC Student Government (SG) has issued a statement, coming in the form of an Instagram story. "We are deeply upset by these issues and our working on this matter," the post reads. "We condemn all racist actions on our campus, and our goal will always be to create a safe and inclusive university for all Bearcats." 

According to Undergraduate Student Body President Isaac Smitherman, the letter was first received by Tichavakunda "toward the beginning of October," and he "posted about it on Twitter." Due to the letter's "fake return address," no one could be held accountable for this crime. 

Besides the statement written on SG's Instagram story, Smitherman reported having a conversation with Debra Merchant, vice president for Student Affairs, Friday morning and used the story to promote SG's anonymous feedback form for discussing experiences involving racism or racial profiling.  

Johnson isn't the first Black student to claim that systemic racism is an issue at UC. On Aug. 31, Trenet Schill, a graduate of the College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning (DAAP), spoke to SG about her time in the program. Schill's experiences are similar to those reported by Johnson, saying that her former professor treated her "differently compared to that of other students in the classroom." 

Schill spent her tenure in DAAP "advocating for diversity, and was not heard." She mentioned "meeting with the diversity and inclusion team, only to get nothing out of it," and a survey conducted among students of color in DAAP about racial profiling. 

"The data we got back was heartbreaking," Schill said. She concluded her presentation by stating, "DAAP needs help, like now." The News Record made repeated attempts to speak with Schill, but she did not respond to requests for further comment.

According to Smitherman and Aashka Raval, an SG Tribunal Senator, SG has been working with faculty to address the issues within that college. "DAAP is trying to appoint someone to hold a Diversity and Inclusion position," said Smitherman. 

Yet other issues remain, most notably a lack of diversity. The Faculty Senate discussed the topic in a meeting earlier this year. Despite Cincinnati being 41% African American, only 9.81% of UC's faculty were in 2021, according to data from the provost's office. 

Unlike most universities, in Smitherman's view, UC is "willing to recognize" implicit biases. 

"UC is just a reflection," said Raval, explaining that issues within UC are mere "recreations of everything that's happening in the Cincinnati community." 

Likewise, 26-year-old Darrin Johnson is being charged with committing a hate crime against an Asian-American UC student, assaulting him while saying, "you brought the 'kung flu' here ... you're going to die for bringing it," according to WCPO.

During the height of COVID-19, former President Donald Trump called the coronavirus "kung flu," at a rally in Arizona, a term eventually amplified by commentators across broadcast and social media platforms. 

According to a report released by the advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate, more than 11,400 hate incidents against Asian Americans have been reported across the U.S. between March 2020 and March 2022. 

Smitherman and Raval feel racists, xenophobes and anti-Semites more overt messaging is a problem. There has been "a surge in hate crimes," said Raval, "especially toward the AAPI community." 

However, there have also been people who are "more open to being educated," according to Smitherman, who doesn't see the current climate as a new phenomenon but "some status quo things that are continuing to happen," with systemic racism being a problem everywhere.

Regardless, both Raval and Smitherman wanted to make clear "the current circumstances are not what we want them to be," and "the university is trying to protect students."

News Reporter

Zurie Pope is a sophomore at the University of Cincinnati majoring in journalism with a minor in political science. His work has appeared in The Nation Magazine, Youth Journalism International, and Unpublished Magazine.