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The Sunflower

Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

Two Black freshmen said a white student committed a hate crime against them on campus. Here’s how Wichita State responded.

(Graphic) (Thy Vo)

Caden Spaulding, a sports management freshman, regularly played on an intramural basketball team in the Heskett Center at Wichita State. He and his teammates are all Black.

On Feb. 28, Spaulding said his team was in a playoff game for intramural basketball. He said the league has a “chill, not really that competitive environment.”

Early in the game, Spaulding said he set a screen on Dawson Dreher, a white WSU graduate student on the opposing team, and Dreher grabbed his neck.

“(Spaulding) told the ref … ‘Ref, you just gonna let him grab my neck?’” Malcolm Gilmore, a freshman and Spaulding’s teammate, said. “And (Dreher) said, ‘I can do that because I’m white.’”

The Sunflower received the police report of the incident through a Kansas Open Records request. Three witnesses, including Gilmore, said a player grabbed another by the neck or the neckline of their jersey — the accounts are inconsistent.

According to Spaulding and the police report, the game’s unnamed referee said she didn’t see anything and let Dreher continue playing.

Spaulding said he, Gilmore and Dreher “got wrapped up over the ball” later in the game. When he and Gilmore let go of the ball, Dreher fell out of bounds and into the referee. Spaulding and Gilmore said that after falling out of bounds, Dreher threw the ball at Gilmore and called him the N-word. 

In the police report, four witnesses besides Spaulding said they saw a player throwing the ball; one described it as intentional, and two said it was done “aggressively.” 

The Sunflower reached out to Dreher multiple times via social media and email from April 4 to April 24 for an interview. Dreher did not respond. In the police report, Dreher denied saying the N-word and grabbing Spaulding’s neck.

Spaulding said players from Dreher’s team said they didn’t hear Dreher use the N-word and asked Spaulding what had happened after the incident. Spaulding said the same people were giving police statements about the incident.

According to the police report, the referee also didn’t hear the N-word. Spaulding said the referee had Dreher sit out but only for the first half of the game.

According to John Lee, the director of campus activities and recreation, the Heskett Center informs students of its student conduct guidelines through its website as well as posters throughout the building. One guideline prohibits “foul language.”

Lee said those playing intramural games also must take a quiz about “sportsmanship rules” beforehand, and a supervisor oversees the gym “at prime times.”

The Black Student Union (BSU) had been playing a separate basketball game in Heskett at the time. BSU member Emanuyel Brown said he asked Wesley Horner, who supervises Heskett referees, about the Heskett Center’s policies and if Dreher would be asked to leave.

According to Brown and the police report, Horner said Dreher could continue playing because he hadn’t heard him say the N-word. Horner said to police that he “was in the room when the event happened but not close enough to know what was said.”

Horner did not respond to The Sunflower’s requests for an interview.

“That just shows you at its finest, like, you’re just not listening at all,” Brown said.

Spaulding said the rest of the basketball game was played with “too much intensity” and “kinda like a violent atmosphere” from the other opposing side.

Lee said the Heskett supervisors report student conduct issues to The Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards, which then determines any consequences. If the issue is related to discrimination, Lee said the Office of Civil Rights, Title IX & ADA Compliance (CTAC) may get involved.

“We (our team) never had any type of issues, never had any type of pushing or nothing like that,” Gilmore said. “So the fact that he (Dreher) got a slap on the wrist … it was like … ‘we got to deal with it in our own hands.’”

Following the game, the teams went downstairs to the main floor of the Heskett Center, where Spaulding and Gilmore addressed Dreher for saying the N-word. Spaulding said that Dreher denied using the word. 

Donovan McClellan, a psychology sophomore who was recently elected BSU president, told The Sunflower he tried to calm Spaulding and Gilmore down because he initially thought WSU would ensure they “get their justice.”

While members of both teams were downstairs, along with BSU members, the police report states Dalton Sporing, whose tie to the situation is unknown, called the police.

Brown said BSU members from the other game, many in leadership positions, had stayed around because they wanted to see justice for the situation.

“Nobody wanted to, like, cause chaos and conflict,” Brown said. “And that’s what the Heskett Center was making it seem like all these angry Black men and angry Black women are trying to gang up on these, you know, Caucasian people. But that was not the case … They tried to really change the narrative on us.”

When the police came

Following Sporing’s call to the police at 10:08 p.m., at least eight police officers arrived at the Heskett Center that night. The incident is described as a “disturbance” in the report.

According to the police report, a large group of people were outside Heskett’s main entrance and inside the front doors.

Dalton Taylor, who is also described as the calling party in the police report, told officers the game had gotten “heated” but was solely “verbal.” This contradicts the multiple witnesses who mentioned they saw someone grabbing another player’s neck or jersey neckline or throwing the ball.

Shakeeyra Garner, a BSU member who said she witnessed what happened after police were called, said she didn’t think that Dreher or his teammates seemed sorry.

“He wasn’t remorseful, apologetic,” Garner said. “He just didn’t seem like he cared.”

In a follow-up interview on March 1 with the police, Dreher was asked if he grabbed anyone’s neck on Feb. 28, and Dreher said he was simply “boxing out” other players.

Dreher also denied saying the N-word and said the other group called him and his friends the N-word. Sporing said the same in his follow-up interview with the police.

Dreher said he thinks his race is why others assumed he was using derogatory language. 

“(Dreher) didn’t say this originally, but he said later that we were, like, antagonizing him and calling him ‘peckerwood’ and ‘cracker,’” Spaulding said. “And I’ve never used that word in my life.”

Spaulding and Gilmore were also both interviewed by police on Feb. 28; their accounts align with what they told The Sunflower.

In the report, Spaulding and Gilmore told police they didn’t want to press charges against Dreher but that they still wanted “something done about the incident.”

Sent in circles

Following Feb. 28, Spaulding and his friends navigated multiple Wichita State resources to “seek justice” for the incident, but they said Wichita State didn’t address the discriminatory event and they didn’t think Dreher faced any meaningful consequences. 

Instead, Spaulding, Gilmore and McClellan said they felt like WSU departments were sending them in circles, with Gilmore comparing it to “ring around the rosie.”

Spaulding said the Heskett Center administration first reached out to him to discuss what happened on Feb. 28. 

Lee said he was aware of the incident but wasn’t allowed to comment on specific cases to The Sunflower.

After the meeting with Wichita State administration and CTAC, Spaulding met separately with CTAC, which redirected him to the police department.

In the meantime, McClellan reached out to local Black community leaders for advice. Brown, drawing on his connections from Student Government, reached out to Teri Hall, vice president for student affairs. 

Brown, Spaulding, McClellan and McClellan’s brother met with Hall and CTAC to discuss the event. Gilmore said he wasn’t able to attend due to work, but he later met separately with CTAC.

During the meeting, Spaulding said that Hall tried to comfort him and provided “reassurance with no solution.”

“She was trying to sweep it under the rug, just redirect it from what (the incident) actually was,” Spaulding said. “Because if we’re being blatant here, like, it was a hate crime. Like, putting your hand on someone’s neck, calling them the N-word, like that’s a hate crime.”

According to the United States Department of Justice, hate crime laws at the federal level are when a crime is “motivated by bias against race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability.” The “crime” in a hate crime is often a violent crime. 

McClellan said that Hall focused mainly on how Dreher said the N-word.

“(Hall) just keeps reverting back to ‘Well, First Amendment says that he can say the (N) word,’” McClellan said.

In an email statement to The Sunflower, Hall said she is saddened when any student doesn’t feel supported by her or others on campus and that her “door remains open” to them.

“From the very beginning, I have been concerned about what happened that evening (at the Heskett Center) and how those involved were impacted,” Hall said. “Hearing comments from students on both teams was disheartening and does not reflect the kind of experience I would ever want for our students.”

Courtney McHenry, the CTAC associate vice president and university Title IX coordinator, said he couldn’t comment on potential issues or investigations. 

During the meeting with Hall and CTAC, the conversation also turned toward the lack of cameras in the Heskett Center. 

“So basically, it never happened,” McClellan said. “Basically, we just can’t do anything, we can’t even investigate … because they messed up on their end and didn’t put cameras in an atmosphere that they’re over.”

Lee confirmed there are no cameras in the Heskett Center, and as of April 18, he said there are no plans to install cameras, which would be “quite the undertaking” for a large building like Heskett.

According to Spaulding and McClellan, Hall said that they could offer Dreher diversity training, but they couldn’t force him to take it. Spaulding said the lack of guarantee is like giving Dreher “nothing at all.” 

After seeing how Wichita State handled the situation, Spaulding said he changed his mind and decided to try pressing charges against Dreher. But, when meeting with the police department in late March, Spaulding said the police told him nothing could be done.

“He basically told me, ‘Well, I mean, you don’t have any bruises.’ Mind you, this (incident) was (on) Feb. 28,” Spaulding said. “(The officer) says … it’s just a ‘He said, she said,’ and it’s just like, there’s cases that go to court all the time off of just witnesses and just word of mouth. Why is mine any different?”

Spaulding also said that Hall had told him she would reach out again after spring break, but she didn’t, leaving Spaulding to make contact. He said he was also told the case was sent to Student Conduct, but that the office never said anything to him.

“We didn’t want to have to make this a public thing and go to The Sunflower,” McClellan said. “We went to every single possibility, every resource that the school gave us, and still nothing.”

Coping with the process

Spaulding said that coping with the situation has been stressful and has impacted both his and Gilmore’s mental health. Spaulding said it “became my identity” for a few weeks, and when he walks outside of the dorms, others will ask him about what happened that night.

Gilmore said he talked with family and tried to keep himself busy while waiting for updates. 

“It’s very draining because they don’t have the support, so we are their support,” Garner said. “To go to school here, where you just feel like you’re just not seen or not heard, it’s just very, very sad.”

Spaulding said when he had to tell his mom the police wouldn’t do anything, she started crying. He said even before the incident, it took trust for his mother to send her Black son to WSU due to police brutality and the racism that Black people experience.

“They (Wichita State) talk about diversity, ‘increase diversity,’ and for this to happen to her son,” Spaulding said. “And all the resources on this campus that are preached to us in orientation, preached to us through applications and everything that come(s) in our fucking mail — and for them to just, like, fail her, that hurts me more than anything.”

Now, with his parents worried about his safety on campus, he’s not sure whether he’ll return to Wichita State next year.

In his initial interview with The Sunflower on April 3, McClellan said WSU wasn’t planning to do anything else and that Hall said she had already handled the situation.

“This is a fight not just for him (Spaulding) and (Gilmore), but it’s for the next five, 10, 15 years of Black students when they go here,” McClellan said.

‘Out of nowhere’: A surprise meeting

In a follow-up interview with The Sunflower, Spaulding and Gilmore said they met with Hall and CTAC again on Monday, April 22, along with McClellan, the WSU police, and Gabriel Fonseca, the interim executive director of student engagement.

Nearly two months after the initial incident, Spaulding said Hall reached out to them, which he described as a “call out of nowhere.” Brown said he thought the Wichita State administration contacted them because The Sunflower “had reached out.”

“That’s the only time they are going to do their jobs,” Brown said. “And then, lo and behold, they like to handle the situation, but in reality, I’m pretty sure they just do what they needed to do.”

Spaulding and Gilmore said WSU told them that Student Conduct had handled the situation, but they can’t share how due to privacy reasons, as stated in the conduct handbook. Spaulding is frustrated that it means they might’ve just given Dreher diversity training, which he thinks conveys the idea that learning about diversity is a punishment.

Instead, Spaulding said he would like to see Dreher do something to “benefit the African-American community on campus,” such as community service. 

According to the Student Code of Conduct Handbook and WSU’s Discrimination Review Procedures, students found to have violated university policy receive consequences that fit the violation. Both “knowledge attainment activities” as well as “restorative activities,” such as community service are potential options.

Gilmore said he brought up adding cameras into areas with a lot of students, and this time, WSU said they were willing to try putting a camera near the courts in Heskett.

Spaulding said he wasn’t “necessarily satisfied with the way things ended,” and though he initially wanted WSU to compensate them for the frustrating process, he now wants to see WSU put out a public statement and change its policies to help other students.

“The next class to come in, I want them to know that if something happens on this campus that preaches diversity, then, like, they’ll be safe in their solutions,” Spaulding said. “They’re (WSU) going to try and fight to change these policies, but that’s a step in the right direction, but I just think more could’ve been done.”

Brown said he wanted others to understand that Black students have to work “twice as hard” on campus, and that others are not understanding the full picture.

Spaulding encourages people experiencing racism or other issues to speak out so the university will take their situations more seriously. He said he did not receive that same support, and Black leaders on campus had warned his group to not speak out.

“When this article does come out, people will be quick to say, like, ‘Oh, it’s not that serious, like, y’all are doing too much,’” Spaulding said. “But like, you never truly know until it happens to you — you never truly know how to feel.”

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About the Contributors
Courtney Brown
Courtney Brown, News Editor
Courtney Brown is one of the news editors for The Sunflower. She previously worked as a reporter and assistant news editor. Brown uses she/her pronouns.
Thy Vo
Thy Vo, Advertisement/Design Manager
Thy Vo has been the advertisement manager and design director for The Sunflower for two years. Vo is a senior majoring in graphic design and minoring in marketing with hopes to pursue a career in graphic design after graduation. This is her third year on staff. You can alternatively contact them at [email protected]. Vo uses she/they pronouns.

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  • N

    NancyMay 2, 2024 at 2:47 pm

    I’m so sorry you and your teammates (and in turn, every black person watching and waiting to see how they will be taken care of) experienced this. I’d like to think that you have more allies than adversaries on campus. I’m so proud that you were brave enough to continue to escalate it. As I tell my children, success is the best revenge. Please hug your mom for me and tell her as a mom on campus, I’ll treat her son like my own

  • E

    EllaApr 25, 2024 at 8:30 pm

    Imagine having a black student confiding in you as an administrator for a potential hate crime and then telling them “The first amendment says he can say the N-word” … I am appalled at the lack of empathy, sensitivity, and thoughtlesness but not surprised. These students deserve better.

  • S

    stephanApr 25, 2024 at 12:07 pm

    I hate to see stuff like this, but growing up as a black man from the south/midwest, words and situations only have as much power as you give them. That doesn’t excuse any behaviors or things done/said, but this ain’t black folks getting blasted with fire hoses or having burning crosses in they yards. Its a sports altercation which literally happens on the daily and this kinds stuff commonly goes both ways. Grow some thick skin, imma leave it at that.

    • C

      Caden SpauldingApr 25, 2024 at 7:16 pm

      didn’t know it was “a sport’s altercation” for someone to grab someone by the throat and call them the N word and i’ve played sports my whole life

  • S

    StellaApr 25, 2024 at 10:37 am

    Thank you for going all the way. You did what you had to do. Not just for yourselves but for others coming in as well. WSU, as well as other Universities say they are going to be there for you then they turn the other way, and expect you to do the same. God bless you for standing up.