Critic of racism on University of Cincinnati's campus becomes victim of racist letter

CINCINNATI – An outspoken critic of the University of Cincinnati’s record on racial diversity received an anonymous inflammatory letter that disparages African American UC students and graduates.

Samuel Burbanks, who is pursuing a doctorate in education at UC, said the letter was sent to his attention to the Graduate School and that he was met on Friday by Bleuzette Marshall, UC’s chief diversity officer, and Kenya Faulkner, general counsel, when he picked it up.

He filed an incident report with UC police, who are investigating. He said police have retained the letter and envelope and hope to extract DNA from a piece of tape on the envelope. Burbank filed the report Jan. 10, according to the police report that does not provide additional information.

The hate mail came less than four months after Dr. Ronald Jackson, who was dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and Assistant Dean Carol Tong – both African Americans – were depicted in an anonymous cartoon in crude racial stereotypes. That incident became more charged when Jackson was forced to resign in December by administrators after failing to meet expectations for cutting the college’s budget to offset a deficit and other priorities.

Burbanks has been one of the most public critics of the forced resignation, sending out statements decrying the move and holding a rally in support of Jackson and to criticize UC leaders for doing too little to combat racism on campus. 

Marshall was charged Friday with responding to the letter in her first week on the job as permanent chief diversity officer after serving as interim chief for a year.

“The University of Cincinnati has been made aware that someone has anonymously sent racially offensive material to one of our graduate students,” Marshall said in prepared remarks. “The university categorically condemns such actions upon our students and upon the diverse and inclusive community we support on our campus.”

After mulling his options over the weekend, Burbanks said he decided to release a copy of the letter and the envelope Sunday.

“I wanted to respond to it not only to say that it was an act of psychic violence against myself but that it also talks about the black community in Cincinnati as well as the black community on campus,” he told WCPO.

The letter appeared to be composed on a typewriter and was rife with spelling and grammatical errors and lists 12 jobs for African American UC graduates, all of which were stereotypical caricatures. 

Burbanks publicized the letter to demonstrate the harassment that some African Americans face at UC and throughout Cincinnati and as a call to action.

“I challenge the university to do things differently on campus,” he said. “We’ve been dealing with racist incidents since the beginning of last semester. I know you can’t stop individuals, but there are some things that can be done within the campus.”

Specifically, Burbanks wants UC to hire more African American faculty, in part to expose white students to positive black role models. “White students can go through their whole four years at UC without taking a class from a black professor. I think that adds to the ignorance out there,” he said.

Burbanks earned his undergraduate degree at UC and his master’s in education at Xavier University. He plans to finish his doctorate in December and pursue a professorship. “I want to teach on the college level and teach education courses on the college level,” he said.

UC has taken public steps to combat racism and to diversify its student body and faculty.

Monday, the University of Cincinnati Foundation announced that Myron Hughes has been promoted to the new position of senior associate vice president of development for diversity and inclusion. He will be responsible for strengthening relationships with diverse alumni and raising philanthropic support for diversity and inclusion efforts across the institution. Hughes is African American.

On Dec. 3, UC pledged an additional $440,000 annually beginning in fall 2014 for three scholarship programs benefiting minority students  plus a one-time $200,000 infusion into its Turner Scholars program.

Burbanks acknowledges the university has made strides but he remains critical of President Santa Ono and others for not adopting a more robust program with more funding to promote diversity and fight racism. 

He wants Ono to put the same energy and passion into race issues as he did when he made a public plea to law enforcement to aggressively pursue stiff sentences for those guilty of crimes on and around campus.

“I’m challenging (Ono) to be as vigilant on issues of race and racism as he is on issues of crime,” Burbanks said.

Ono could not be reached for comment.

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