Student Safety Jeopardized by Violation of Fifth Amendment

A Haskell Indian Nations University (HINU) student was vacated from the university dorms during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic over allegations of intimidation and harassment of a Haskell employee without due process to appeal the decision. 

HINU athlete Russell Parker received a HINU Action Notice for an Emergency Level II suspension from Danelle McKinney, Student Rights Specialist, that required Parker to leave campus during stay-at-home orders from the state. The notice outlined that Parker wasn’t currently allowed to appeal allegations against him but was allowed to appeal his “Permanent Loss of Housing.” Parker says he is unaware of how an appeal for housing would work at this time since there are policies in place to keep students who have left campus from returning among HINU’s COVID-19 response efforts, and he’s currently required to be off campus until his hearing.

Parker’s suspension is based on allegations of “harassment of Haskell employee” and “intimidation by student to Haskell employee.” These allegations came as a shock for Parker, and contrasts the Report Synopsis Overview in the Incident Report which states that “[the] student failed to comply with verbal directives from Facilities Staff.” The referenced directives in the report had asked Parker to move his car and golf mat and move onto the current golfing range.

According to the incident report, Steven LaCour, Acting Facilities Foreman stated “… I noticed that he had a golf club in his hand and was getting very agitated.” The surrounding text does not support that Parker, who was golfing, threatened LaCour, but  mentions Parker accusing him of being on a “power trip” and calling him an “a–hole” when he walked away, both protected rights under the First Amendment as well as the Code of Student Conduct. Parker feels LaCour embellished his report by describing Parker as “belligerent” and “agitated”; LaCour referred to himself as acting “kindly.”

In addition to LaCour’s statement being taken in the incident report by Ernest Wilson, Acting Supervisor: College Resident Assistant, LaCour’s account was also recorded in the activity log of Lead Security Officer James Yarnall who LaCour asked to confront  Parker. Yarnall wrote that after asking Parker to move his car and to golf on the range, the “student packed up his stuff and left” and “did not say much to me.” He did note that Parker seemed “irritated”.

Parker’s own experience was not documented by either the security activity log nor the Incident Report used to determine Parker’s suspension. Despite his best efforts to advocate for himself, Student Rights is not currently allowing him to appeal their allegations.

As a federally funded school, HINU is bound by constitutional rights including the right to due process which is also part of the Code of Student Conduct. The code of conduct says “every student, student organization, and campus organization is entitled to due process and appeal in every instance of disciplinary action for alleged violation of Haskell expectations.”

This decision and lack of due process puts Parker’s life in danger. Parker said “it’s like walking around with a bomb strapped to my chest” referring to him trying to find temporary housing off campus in the midst of the pandemic. Parker also showed concerns for it’s effects on his financial situation and how it will affect his scholarships. Parker had told Tonia Salvini, Vice President of University Services, through email that this would “leave [him] homeless at the height of a pandemic.”

For Parker to be charged with Intimidation or Threat outlined in the Code of Student Conduct, LaCour would have to have had “a fear of bodily harm” or feel threatened by word or action “ of a perceived threat to inflict bodily harm.” In Parker’s message to Salvini,  he told her that these allegations simply aren’t true and that “at no point did [he] approach Mr. LaCour or say anything that would imply a threat or violence.” Allegations of intimidation automatically trigger an additional charge of harassment due to HINU defining intimidation as a form of harassment.

Parker has been receiving support from his peers who have witnessed Parker golfing over the past few weeks during isolation before the incident. Haskell student, Michael King said “Haskell protects their employees more than they protect their students”. The climate of the current COVID-19 pandemic has complicated relationships between students and staff. King said “I feel staff is targeting students and pointing blame at them for [COVID-19]” and that the staff thinks “… their health is at a greater risk than students…”. One of LaCour’s coworkers commented on an Indian Leader Facebook post that he felt it was a “very bad choice to let students live here” and he feels like staff aren’t equipped to protect themselves. One of LaCour’s relatives also posted concerns that “essential staff have families too” referencing the fact that students who are staying on campus put them, the staff and their families, at risk (see article “When Home isn’t ‘Home’ “).

Not only is Parker up against a mindset that students on campus threaten staff safety, but Parker’s peer, Marklin Morales says “I don’t doubt race had something to do with it.” Parker told Indian Leader that as a bi-racial non-traditional student, he doesn’t look like his peers and that has caused challenges for him including this incident.

A study from the American Psychological Association (APA) found that black men, in hypothetical situations, were perceived as more “capable of causing harm…” Parker said, “I don’t like playing the race card”, but he finds that his bi-racial status affects his life, even in Black and Native communities. This comes several weeks after multi-racial Black students discussed their discrimination  on HINU’s campus at the Black History Month Student Panel.

According to a HINU Resident Assistant, Parker is one of at least five students who have been vacated during HINU’s isolation through allegations of breaking the Code of Student Conduct, and it is unknown if the others were given their due process, and if there was any consideration for their safety during this pandemic. Parker’s hearing for Permanent Loss of Housing will be Friday April 17, Parker’s birthday.


Notes:
Vice President of Student Services Toni Salvini, Student Rights Specialist Danelle McKinney, and Acting President Jim Rains were given an opportunity to comment before publication with no response.

There is a reference to an attached police report with the Action Report. To Parkers knowledge, this is just the security log from Yarnall. Parker contacted the Lawrence Police Department who has no record of this incident.


Following the publication of the article, student rights organization Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has gotten involved on behalf of Parker, and the following news outlets have picked up the story.

FIRE April 29, 2020

3 Comments


  1. As a HINU Alum, I am in full support of student Russell Parker’s suspension being dismissed based on the power dynamics that led to an alleged HINU Action Notice for an Emergency Level II suspension.
    I am appalled that HINU staff Steve LaCour chose to harass a student and then acting Housing Supervisor Ernie Wilson chose to write the alleged incident up based only on LaCour’s allegations. At the point of an alleged incident against the student a discussion and/or interview between acting Supervisor Wilson and the student should have taken place. I am informed by the student that when he attempted to tell Wilson about the exchange between he and LaCour, Wilson laughed about it then turned around and wrote up an Incident Report and filed it at the Student Conduct Office. Then student was served the Action Notice to move out. By the way this student is on HINU’s Golf Team and on the Dean’s list attesting to his overall good character. As a former Student Residential Assistant for four years, I have witnessed staff and students exercise racism against Native people who do not fit a traditional image of a Native American. So, I am disturbed and ponder whether LaCour chose to harass Parker based on his physical profile as a Black man. There are past complaints charging racism. As a HINU Alumnae, I am in full support of student Russell Parker’s suspension being dismissed. – Patricia A. Pena, Kickapoo Tribe in KS/1st Gen Mexican American

    1. In addition to bias based on the man being a tribal member with Black skin, my additional concern is that it appears that LaCours is a social worker–with an advanced degree??? Am I understanding this correctly…?? A tribal member and a masters level Social worker actively attempting to deny a tribal member due process; an administrative assistant advising top administration to not respond to a request from advocates asking that the student to receive due the process to which he is entitled?? And the Administration acquiesces to this recommendation?? All this is all happening at HASKELL INDIAN NATIONS UNIVERSITY—The place where the souls of 103 Native American children dwell. Native Children who were forced by whites to deny/unlearn their heritage, oppressed; taken from their families sometimes beaten into submission..children who died from pneumonia; TB, malaria And now Haskell becomes the Oppressor/ and a social worker the instrument??? Turning out a Black Indian, honor student and athlete -to live in his car during this pandemic all because of a non-violent verbal exchange with a staff person in the midst of COVID-19. Shame on you Haskell. The ANCESTORS do not like what you did to this man–that is why the letter was accidentally released back to the agency/people who are trying to help him. He is owed an apology, remuneration, and a return to the dorms. And LaCours needs training. If he is afraid to be there with students during this Covid-19 event then he should be at home–sheltering in place.

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