Howard University’s law school, a historically black college, is facing a $2 million lawsuit filed by a white student, Michael Newman, who claims that he was expelled in September 2022 due to racial discrimination.
Newman alleges that the university leaders had created a “hostile education environment” that began when he wrote in a group chat that “where I part with the black community is where they believe government solves problems, I only see it causing problems.” Newman’s comments were in response to a symposium where an African-American speaker said that if Biden and Harris won the White House, they would usher in a “golden age of environmental justice.”
While some students were willing to engage and debate, others “reacted with acrimony” and contacted school administrators, according to the lawsuit. Newman commented in a Zoom chat that he felt “utterly disenfranchised” and compared his experience to what a black person must feel at a predominantly white college. His comments were deemed “offensive,” and classmates became “more overtly hostile” and “conspired to seek his expulsion.”
Newman suffered “depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts” as a result of “public ostracism, vilification, and humiliation,” the lawsuit says. Global Head of Diversity Recruiting Reggie McGahee allegedly told Newman he had become the most hated student he had ever since beginning his career at the university. McGahee ultimately told Newman to write a letter apologizing to his classmates for his insensitivity.
However, another professor spent almost an entire class discussing Newman’s alleged “racial insensitivities.” Classmates claimed that Newman was causing them “severe stress” and distracting them from their studies. Eventually, the classmates found Newman’s private Twitter account and saw that he had once tweeted a picture of a slave showing his scarred back with the caption, “But we don’t know what he did before the picture was taken.” He attempted to explain that it was an “attempt to explain away videos of police brutality by claiming the victim must have committed wrongdoing before the video started.”
Newman finally sent out a four-part letter trying to explain himself, but classmates mocked it as a “manifesto.” School of Law Dean Danielle Holley later secretly recorded a Zoom meeting she called with Newman and McGahee, during which she suggested Newman transfer to another school, accusing him of racially harassing classmates, according to the allegations.
“During a digital town hall attended by 300 participants to discuss controversies surrounding Newman, Holley allegedly characterized Newman’s letters as ‘disturbing in every sense of the word,’ according to the suit,” the report continued. “She allegedly blocked him from using several functions to try and speak up in his defense, even disabling the chat function and turning off his camera.” Holley accused Newman of “continual harassment of member [sic] of the Howard Law community, and disturbance of the learning environment at the School of Law.”
Newman also filed a complaint against Holley, saying that she had perpetuated “threats,” “discrimination” and created a “hostile academic environment.” A panel convened about Holley’s complaint and determined that Newman was at fault and should be expelled. His complaint was never considered.
Newman is seeking $2 million for “pain, suffering, emotional anguish, and damage to his reputation.” The incident sheds light on the importance of academic freedom and the consequences that can result when individuals are silenced for their beliefs. Universities must be careful not to create a “hostile education environment” and instead prioritize the principles of free speech, diversity, and inclusion.