Last fall, two black employees of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) objected when they spotted janitor Keith Sampson reading Notre Dame vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan in a campus break room. The cover of the book features white-robed Klansmen and burning crosses.
Sampson, a 58-year-old white man, is also a communications student at the university.
In November 2007, IUPUI affirmative action officer Lillian Charleston sent Sampson a letter charging him with racial harassment. “You showed extremely poor judgment by insisting on openly reading a book related to a historically and racially abhorrent subject in the presence of your black co-workers,” Charleston wrote.
Sampson responded that the book was a historical account. “I have an interest in American history,” he said. “I was trying to educate myself.” He should have challenged the university to read the book, which, as author Todd Tucker has pointed out, is “enthusiastically anti-Klan.”
IUPUI finally expunged the incident from Sampson’s personnel file, but only after the American Civil Liberties Union intervened. It still took a flood of negative national press coverage to extract an apology from the university, a tepid one at that. Charles Bantz, IUPUI chancellor, sent a letter to Sampson in July that read, “I can candidly say that we regret this situation took place.”
Note: Prompt and decisive is generally the way to go when responding to a harassment claim, but first it’s important to make sure the underlying complaint is rational.
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