Senior Robert Sherrell stood before administrators and fellow students in a meeting called by Dean of Students Harold “Pete” Goldsmith on Tuesday evening in the Indiana Memorial Union’s Georgian Room after a threat that circulated on the anonymous social media app Yik Yak last week.
Sherrell said he was assaulted by a white man and a white woman on his way to an interview in downtown Bloomington to discuss diversity and the climate of minorities on campus.
After the attack exacerbated a preexisting shoulder injury, Sherrell said his attackers watched and laughed as he asked for help.
Frustrated by a lack of bystander support, Sherrell called 911 for the first time in his life. Sherrell said the Bloomington Police Department officers that responded had no sense of urgency.
Sherrell spoke to Provost Lauren Robel in the IU Health Center waiting room after the attack. He asked her to send an IU-Notify alert to warn students on campus that his attackers had not been identified.
“I am an IU student,” Sherrell said. “I live in Bloomington. My safety is a concern, or at least it should be. Show me, show me this is a concern.”
The University did not send an alert. Instead, students learned of the attack from Sherrell personally or via social media.
Sherrell said the lack of an IU-Notify alert contributes to a mindset on campus where a majority of students do not believe racism exists.
“See, one of the problems is the people on this campus — the people who a majority aren’t in this room right now — feel like our struggles as people of color and our oppression is not real,” Sherrell said. “And you want to know why they don’t think it’s real? Because they don’t know it’s happening.”
Robel, sitting across the table, said BPD is investigating the incident thoroughly. Robel said she also found out about the incident via social media before she contacted Sherrell at the IU Health Center.
“That’s unacceptable,” Robel said. “It is unacceptable to find out that something like this happened to you on a social media as opposed to a contact immediately from the BPD.”
IU Police Department Chief Laury Flint, who was asked by Robel to attend the meeting, said despite BPD’s having first responded to the event, students could call IUPD as well and IUPD does not mind responding to incidents that have already been reported.
“I am available 24-7, 365,” Flint said. “If you call dispatch and you don’t get the response you think you should be getting, you need to go further than that. You need to let me know about it.”
Flint and Robel also outlined the IU-Notify policy by emphasizing in order to send an alert, a threat must be present that prompts students to take an action, such as to shelter in place or avoid a specific location.
“So where was that action about not going to the Kirkwood area where the attack happened?” a student asked.
Sherrell, who has been heavily publicized as IU’s first stand-up comedy major in local media and on-campus tours, said he felt as if he had been used as a recruitment tool.
“How can you, as a university, value my skin color, value the work that I’ve done in my craft, but don’t value me?” Sherrell asked, pounding his fist on the table.
Sherrell asked two things to come as a result of the meeting: an alert be sent about his attack and mandatory cultural training be implemented at the University.
Before Sherrell spoke up, Robel and Goldsmith, highlighting administrative efforts to improve the campus’ cultural climate, pointed to an audit recently completed of University-wide diversity efforts by the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs.
Sidney Harris, a Cox Scholar, said institutional efforts do not go far enough and suggested that the administration consider financial and cultural retribution.
“There has to be an institutional mandate of something to make these things happen at a large scale,” Harris said.