Racist threat found in Bowman Hall bathroom

Racist vandalism, damage to paintings, also reported at Oscar Ritchie

Gabby Jonas, TV2 Reporter

Editor’s note: The video portion of this story was published Feb. 2, and the written portion was published Feb. 5.

A racist threat toward Black people and a swastika were carved into a plastic partition inside a second-floor bathroom stall in Bowman Hall and reported to campus police Jan. 23.

A student, who found the graffiti before class, reported it. The discovery comes five days after another student reported racist vandalism in Oscar Ritchie Hall. It is unknown if the two incidents are related.

On Jan. 18, a student found the letters “KKK” scratched onto the forehead of a subject in a painted mural on the second floor of Oscar Ritchie Hall.

The threat and the swastika in Bowman “had been done fairly recently as the plastic shavings were still raised and visible in the lettering,” according to the report filed by Kent State Police Officer Vance Voyles.

The carvings, which were adjacent to each other, were about three inches wide and three inches high and located next to the toilet paper dispenser.

In the police report, Voyles stated he took pictures of the damage, locked the stall door to prevent more people from seeing the carvings and reported the damage to building maintenance workers so the graffiti could be removed.

The student who reported the incident told Kent State Police Officer Cheryl Hayes that he had not been in that particular restroom the month prior.

A racist statement is carved into the forehead of the shooter in a painting of Malcolm X’s assassination displayed in Oscar Ritchie Hall. The photo was taken on Jan. 19, 2023. (Courtesy of Kent State University police)
A painting of Malcolm X’s assassination on display in Oscar Ritchie Hall was defaced with a racist statement. The picture was taken on Jan. 19, 2023. (Courtesy of Kent State University police)

To find the time frame for when the incident may have occurred, Hayes contacted the housekeeping supervisor, who referred him to the Ajax Commercial Cleaning Services staff.

The full-time custodian had been on vacation. The custodian who filled in for her until Jan. 15 or 16 said he did not notice any damage in the bathroom.

When the full-time custodian came back on Jan. 20, she did not see any damage, which led Hayes to reason the damage may have occurred between Jan. 20 and Jan. 23. There was no camera footage of the incident.

When Voyles came to investigate the reported damage, he saw a “seemingly much older carving” with a separate anti-Nazi reference that was two-to-three feet tall. That damage had not been previously reported.

This larger quote “appeared to have been gone over to possibly erase or lessen the impact,” the report stated.

University, student groups respond

Mark Polatajko, the senior vice president for finance and administration, sent an email Jan. 24, the day after the Bowman incident was reported, to address racist vandalism on campus.

“I’m writing to share with you that some acts of vandalism were recently discovered on our Kent Campus, and that the damage included defacement of public art installations and a restroom, in part, with the use of racist words,” he said.

“What we do know is that vandalism, particularly when it involves hateful and racist words or symbols, and the people who carry it out have no place in our values-based Kent State community.”

The email did not include any details as to what the vandalism was or where it was found.

“Can we ensure that this won’t happen again? Of course not,” Polatajko said in the email. “Our university is a microcosm of our larger society.”

SALSA, Kent State’s Spanish and Latine Student Association, made an Instagram statement about the incidents on Jan. 25.

“After every incident, statements are released, it is discussed for a week and then the university community moves on,” the post reads. “People of color deserve to feel safe on the campus we call home, our place of learning and community.”

“Words are not enough to keep us safe, action will. We urge the University administration to coordinate with law enforcement to identify the suspect and persecute them to the fullest extent of the law.”

Kent State’s Undergraduate Student Government addressed the incidents on its Instagram Jan. 31.

“As many of you, we are incredibly frustrated that acts of hate continue to occur on our campus,” the statement reads. “The University Police investigation of this incident is ongoing. The University Facilities Team and Public Safety will be meeting with faculty and staff to assess how to make spaces safer.”

More vandalism reported in Oscar Ritchie

On Jan. 20, two days after the initial vandalism report from Oscar Ritchie Hall, Kent State Police Lieutenant Michquel Penn received an email about additional damage to artwork in the building.

When she investigated on Jan. 23, she found pieces were torn from a first-floor mural made of small photos of President Barack Obama. One photo also appeared to be defaced, and a message was written on a piece of the artwork.

Penn estimated repairing the artwork will cost $500. It is unknown when the damage occurred.

Chris Jenkins, the assistant director of public safety and captain of Kent State’s police department, said his department and the university “are not going to tolerate” hatred. He asked the community to report acts of vandalism or suspicious activity whenever they become apparent.

“If you think that somebody reported it – still report it,” Jenkins said. “So if you’re in a bathroom or you’re on campus and you see something that is hateful or discriminatory or threatening, don’t assume somebody else has already contacted us. Just go ahead and do it again.”

To report vandalism or destruction, call Kent State’s Department of Public Safety at (330) 672-2212. For Kent State Counseling and Psychological Services, contact (330) 672-2487.

“If any of our student organizations, individual students have any questions or want to express their concerns or just want to engage, feel free to contact us,” Jenkins said. “As President [Todd] Diacon says, hatred won’t be tolerated on this university. We’re all Golden Flashes – we all need to help each other out.”

Isabella Schreck is editor-in-chief. Contact her at [email protected].

Cassidy Gladieux is a campus editor. Contact her at [email protected]