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Lawsuit claims Texas Christian University faculty assaulted, racially discriminated against student

The 20-year-old student says she was continually assaulted and harassed by the dean of TCU's John V. Roach Honors College during a trip to Washington, D.C.
Credit: Fort Worth Star-Telegram

DALLAS — A 20-year-old Texas Christian University student claims in a federal civil lawsuit that she was harassed, assaulted, falsely imprisoned, abused and discriminated against by members of the school's honors college during a 2019 trip to Washington, D.C. 

The student, identified only as "Jane Doe No. 1" in the suit filed this month, was a student of the John V. Roach Honors College and attended a summer trip during which she suffered "emotional distress" and considered suicide.

Doe alleges that faculty members made racist remarks and belittled her because she is black, problems the lawsuit argues are emblematic of "over a century of hateful campus culture gone unchecked" at the university.

The student also claims she was repeatedly assaulted by the dean of the Honors College, who would shove Doe and push her to walk faster when she was in pain and ignored her health concerns for the duration of the trip.

The lawsuit details Doe's experiences at the university and specifically what happened to her during the summer trip. The suit also delves into the history of racism at TCU. 

Doe believed she was treated differently than white students on the trip to D.C., including that she was forced to sleep on a couch, a professor made a comment about being locked on a slave ship and claimed she couldn't afford to be there. 

The suit says the student "was terrorized and dehumanized," primarily by Diane Snow, the dean of the honors college. 

In addition to Snow, the suit names the school's board of trustees; Fredrick W. Gooding, an assistant professor of African-American studies; Rob Garnett, associate dean of the honors college; Darron Turner, the chief inclusion officer and Title IX coordinator; Russell Mack, strategic communications professor; and Aaron Chimbel, a former TCU journalism professor. 

The professors are each accused of conspiracy and intentionally inflicting emotional distress.

School officials said they cannot comment on "the specifics of pending litigation." 

They acknowledge historical issues brought up in the federal civil rights suit. 

"Like many universities in the country, TCU has a complex history that we are taking an active approach to examining and understanding," officials said in a written statement. "Today, TCU is focused on creating a respectful and inclusive community for all students."

The university says the student's complaint is "still under review." 

"If we discover that any of these allegations are accurate, we are committed to addressing them," TCU officials said in the written statement. 

'Hateful campus culture'

The lawsuit highlights articles and cartoons dated as far back as 1908 and as recently as 1997 that contained racial slurs and epithets published in the campus news outlet TCU Daily Skiff.

In 2000, several white students celebrated MLK Day by "eating fried chicken and eating watermelon," the suit says. 

Two years later, a group of black students were called the N-word by a group of white students, according to the lawsuit. The suit refers to Skiff articles about both instances. 

The suit also references a planned campus visit from Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke in 1974 — the same year the university was under investigation from the federal government for racial discrimination. 

The university eventually withdrew its invitation for Duke to speak.

"TCU cannot seriously contend that bigotry, hatred, and disparate treatment are anything less than part of its DNA," the lawsuit says.

'Lucky to go'

As a member of the honors college, Doe had the option of studying abroad in Europe or Japan or taking a trip to Washington, D.C.

The suit alleges that Doe was heavily enticed to attend the summer program in D.C. even though she ranked it last on her preferences.

Doe claims that she and another black student were picked to attend the D.C. trip as a way to "tokenize" the students and bolster TCU's reputation as a diverse educational institution. 

"For Jane Doe No. 1, it began to sink in that at TCU, 'you are judged by what you look like and not who you are,'" the suit says.

According to the 2019 TCU student factbook, 67.2% of the total student body for the fall 2019 semester was white.

Before she even left for D.C., Doe said Snow accused her of being "unpatriotic" for being apprehensive about a White House visit that might have included a visit with the president. 

Snow told Doe that "she should consider herself 'lucky to go' on the trip" and threatened to make Doe repay the honors college for the grant she received for the trip if she did not go to D.C., according to the lawsuit.

TCU offered to cover an estimated 48% of the trip cost.

Incidents in D.C.

Upon her arrival in D.C. on July 7, 2019, Doe found that her two roommates had already taken up the closet space and both beds in the room, forcing the 6-foot, 180 pound Doe to sleep on the couch. 

She also says she had no access to a bathroom at critical times. The lawsuit says the only other African-American student on the trip was also made to sleep on a couch instead of a bed. 

Hotel staff, upon seeing Doe in distress having to leave her room to use the bathroom, were so concerned Doe was being abused on the trip that they called her mother, according to the lawsuit. 

When the student complained to Gooding, one of the TCU faculty members on the trip, he told her that the students could rotate sleeping in the bed and the couch. 

All of this made Doe and the other black student "know that 'their life at the University...was generally worse than the life of the average white student,'" according to the lawsuit.

Doe, who is asthmatic, was agitated by the air quality in D.C. and developed severe foot blisters after she was made to "walk several miles in the heat of the day to and from various program activities," a stipulation the student says was not made clear to her before the trip.

When she lagged behind, the other black student walked with her. 

Snow "hurried back to the two African-American students and began to walk menacingly behind them." 

The honors college dean "aggressively shoved herself between" the students and assaulted Doe "by aggressively placing her hand on Jane Doe No. 1's back and driving her to the front of her peers," the suit says.

The suit claims Snow would "repeatedly" assault Doe throughout the trip. 

During a visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Snow remarked that Doe could "experience the feeling of being crowded into a slave cargo ship" in one of the museum's exhibits. 

Other students noticed this behavior as well and said that Snow "hated" Doe, according to the lawsuit.

After this incident, Doe said she wanted to leave the program. 

Snow threatened to revoke Doe's funding and also threatened to not give the student credit for the course and kick her out of the honors college.

The dean also dismissed Doe's concerns after students found bedbugs in their hotel suite, but Snow listened to a white student's complaints, according to the suit. 

'Hatred, bigotry and racism'

Doe considered killing herself on her 20th birthday, according to the lawsuit. 

After Snow declined to give Doe her own birthday party, as she had done with another student, Snow tried to tack Doe's birthday onto a dinner honoring Chimbel, a former WFAA journalist who said he only taught a week-long course for the program. 

That night, the lawsuit says Doe considered suicide but called the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for the first time. 

The suit says that her "hopelessness and life-threatening despair was not about an expensive birthday dinner or a cake. It was about TCU’s public displays of hatred, bigotry and racism toward Jane Doe No. 1 from the moment she had stepped on its campus."

After her birthday, Doe informed the school's Title IX coordinator about her mental state and said that she intended to file a formal complaint when she got back to campus. Word of this got back to Snow, and the lawsuit says Snow "violently slammed the door" in Doe's face mid-conversation.

Doe ended up getting a "no-credit" grade for the course, based on evaluations of class assignments, class participation and class interaction, according to the lawsuit, because of the failing grades assigned to her by Snow, Mack and Chimbel. 

Doe is requesting a jury trial, damages and exemplary damages. 

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