On Monday, Jan. 21, screenshots of a GroupMe chat with students at NC State containing racial slurs circulated through Twitter. This comes just two years after the “Sullivan Squad” GroupMe chat, which heightened racial tension on campus, became public.
The screenshots were taken by Saba Hosseinzadeh, a graduate student studying physiology and a member of the GroupMe chat.
The primary individuals engaged in the group chat were Monty (last name unknown), Cole Blinton, and Garrett Sanderson, who was charged with simple assault on Aug. 26, 2018 by the Raleigh Police Department.
According to Hosseinzadeh, the GroupMe message thread was created for people living in Signature 1505, formerly known as Theory Raleigh, her apartment complex. However, the chat is not affiliated with the complex in any way.
Throughout the year, the GroupMe has been used to update tenants about social events and parties that were happening on and/or around campus.
According to Hosseinzadeh, the language used in the GroupMe message had been used in prior incidents. This was just the first time she chose to speak out against it.
“They have used that word and other racist language before, but I never spoke up for it before, to be honest,” Hosseinzadeh said. “I was more concerned for my safety, but it gets to a point where it’s just disgusting and they need to stop being a piece-of-crap human being.”
Hosseinzadeh observed that many people started leaving the GroupMe after Sanderson began to make more comments. She said that was when she decided to stand up to him.
“I just knew I had to say something,” Hosseinzadeh said. “Because if you go to NC State, you are representing the school, and that’s just a horrible representation of NC State.”
Sanderson, a second-year studying sport management, said through private messages on Twitter that he didn’t see his language as offensive, nor did he intend to offend any members of the chat.
“All I have to say is, I didn’t use it towards anyone and wouldn’t ever use it to offend anyone,” Sanderson said. “All of my friends that are African American accept me and tell me to say that word because it is friendly, so I use it towards my friends.”
Hosseinzadeh said that she told the apartment complex details of the message thread because she was concerned for her safety.
In the GroupMe chat, Sanderson made a comment toward another member of the chat, Tyler* (last name unknown), after Tyler called into question Sanderson's rationale to use the slur, saying “the place I come from u die saying wrong shit to the wrong person.”
Hosseinzadeh was removed from the chat shortly after.
There have been previous incidents where NC State students used racial slurs in private messaging groups, most notably a GroupMe chat named “Sullivan Squad” that was made public in September 2016. Hosseinzadeh said that she wanted the university to acknowledge and condemn the remarks made by students on campus.
“I tweeted it because social media in this day and age has the power to unite people and also help them face consequences for their actions,” Hosseinzadeh said. “I wanted other people at my school to be aware that this is what is happening, and they deserve to know, especially the black community, that they are going to school with a bigot.”
Hosseinzadeh said that she hopes that the exposure the tweet gets on social media will cause the university to speak out against racist remarks on NC State’s campus.
“I was hoping that it would get enough exposure that everyone starts to tweet the chancellor or the dean,” Hosseinzadeh said. “The strength comes in the pack, right? That’s what we say. So, if it was just me, a lone wolf, I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish as much, but if there are many other people taking action, there will be more light shed on this issue.”
Hosseinzadeh said that she would report the incident to campus police on Tuesday. She stated that she doesn't want anything bad to happen to Sanderson; she just wants him to realize what he has done is wrong and hurtful.
“I’m going to NC State Police tomorrow,” Hosseinzadeh said. “It’s better than being a bystander and saying nothing about it.”
The Office of the Student Body President released a statement signed by members of the Executive Branch, student senators, and University Activity Board chair members. The statement condemned the messages, saying that they incite hate and violence that threatens black students and NC State students as a whole.
“The attitudes expressed in these messages fall far short of the expectations and goals we have for the students, faculty, and staff who together make up the Wolfpack, and in no way represent what we, the signatories, stand for,” the statement reads.
Student Body President Jess Errico, a fifth-year studying mechanical and aerospace engineering, said that this incident reaffirmed her belief that more of an effort must be made to make the campus community more inclusive.
“The mindset those messages represent is threatening to black students on campus in this incident, and the past incident from 2016 reaffirms that we are in need of a cultural competency training that better informs what [Student Government] is doing to work to challenge the community [to be] inclusive and equitable,” Errico said. “Our community needs far more than that, but it is my fear that additional efforts won’t be possible. It is my hope that we will go above and beyond in creating a space and a campus that is inclusive and challenges our students to be inclusive.”
Errico said that she has been working with student organizations to figure out ways Student Government can help support black students at NC State.
“We are here to listen,” Errico said. “Please let us know how we can support you, because we will be using our voice and I will be using my voice as student body president to support impacted students, but I am mindful that I am not speaking for them. As student body president, I want to make sure that I am helping to create additional spaces and more opportunities for the black community to share, which is why I’ve reached out to student orgs who represent and support black students on campus to see how I can best do that.”
In a joint email statement from Mike Mullen, vice chancellor for the Division of Academic and Student Affairs, and Sheri Schwab, the interim vice provost for the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity, it was revealed that the university is reviewing the incident and the Bias Impact Response Team (BIRT) will be responsible for following up on the concern.
“As you can imagine, we began reviewing this concern as soon as it came to our attention,” the email reads. “At NC State, we hold and work diligently to promote our values — especially those of diversity, respect and creating an inclusive and welcoming environment. The deplorable statements made in the GroupMe chat are clearly in opposition to those shared campus values.”
The statement goes on to explain that BIRT focuses on how the impact of a situation can affect a community and is a mechanism where students, faculty and staff can bring forth their concerns. BIRT will then provide the necessary review, response and resources to address the incident.
Additionally, Schwab and Mullen stated that they have reached out to the student who shared the GroupMe messages via Twitter to talk about the next steps to take to deal with the concern.
*Editor's Note: This article was updated to accurately show that Sanderson's comment was not a threat directed at Hosseinzadeh.