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Asian American Leaders Criticize Handling of Student Complaint by Washington Human Rights Commission

Asian American students and community leaders are criticizing a state Human Rights Commission task force report on Washington State University’s handling of a student complaint about the behavior of two school basketball players.

“I was very disappointed,” says Doug Chin, president of the Seattle chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans.

The report looked at the way the university responded to a February complaint by WSU student Nina Kim, who worked in the school’s Multicultural Center. She complained that two White male students, part of a group who would frequently pass by her office window, made animal noises and danced in what she referred to as a monkey-like style.

On one occasion, she says, one of the young men pulled up his eyes in a slant and motioned “I heart you.”

Kim’s complaint prompted a Feb. 23 campus march by about 100 students calling for expulsions and better minority recruiting at the university.

A WSU student conduct board found that while the two students might have engaged in adolescent behavior, there was insufficient evidence to call it harassment under the university’s code of conduct. The board also decided the behavior was not racially motivated.

When informed of the complaint, the students apologized, stopped the behavior and expressed surprise that it had been perceived as harassment, the school says.

The rights commission task force report — released last month — found that the process that the university used to address the conduct was sound but that issues such as communication between students and the university should be addressed.

The report was produced at the request of WSU and was neither an official commission document nor the product of an investigation.
Yvonne Kinoshita Ward, chairwoman of the Washington Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs, says she was stunned by the report, adding it made judgments and comments on the people involved. Ward says she’s considering scheduling a public hearing or making a recommendation to the governor’s office or Legislature for a new outside investigation of the university’s handling of the complaint.

Nina Kim says she felt the report unfairly “points a lot of the blame back at me rather than really looking at the larger issues that occur on the campus.”

But she adds her main issue is with WSU, rather than the two students or the task force report. WSU could have handled the situation more fairly, she says.

Marc Brenman, executive director of the state Human Rights Commission, says the task force didn’t pass judgment, but simply noted facts and made recommendations.

“We went out of our way to quote her actual language and we also constructed a chronology of events,” Brenman says.

“Some feedback we’ve gotten from other people in the field is that this report was done well and was objective,” he says.

Shari Song, president of the Korean American Voters Alliance, says the report didn’t interview all those involved and didn’t come up with concrete resolutions.

Nadine Shiroma, chairwoman of the Eastside Asian Pacific Islanders, said in a statement that her organization supported the rights commission task force’s recommendations, such as diversity training in freshman orientation. But the organization expressed concern that not everyone involved in the incident was interviewed.

— Associated Press

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