Purdue students react to university's decision to expel student for racist comments online

Black students say the university's decision to expel student Maxwell Lawrence for his racially insensitive comments has brought a sense of relief.

Posted: Jun 24, 2020 4:34 AM

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) -- Purdue University has expelled a student for making racist comments online. On Tuesday, President Mitch Daniels announced Maxwell Lawrence's immediate expulsion.

He's accused of saying racial-slurs to a group of black students in a private group message and earlier this month he posted a video on TikTok, where he pretended to run over protestors in his car. Black students say the university's decision has brought a sense of relief.

"It is so amazing to finally see something monumental happen like that," said Hunter Spalding, Purdue University student.

The university's decision to expel Lawrence is something Spalding didn't believe would happen. He was one of a number of Black students involved in the group message with Maxwell Lawrence. 

"I had gotten added to a random group chat with a lot of people that I did not know or recognize," said Spalding. "Seeing a lot of the messages that were in that group chat was so disgusting it was hateful and aimed at Black people."

These are some of the messages that were exchanged in the group message. (images not in order of actual conversation)

Spalding said he's not sure who created the group message but he said there were less than ten members and the majority of students in the group were Black. He said he didn't know the other students but he did know Lawrence because they connected at the beginning of their freshman year.

"It was just so disgusting and appalling to see someone that I once called my friend say these really racist, hateful disgusting comments and remarks," said Spalding.

After the messages were published on social media students expressed concerns to university leaders. Purdue Spokesperson Tim Doty responded saying:

The appropriate offices have been notified of the social media posts.
The views expressed are obviously highly inconsistent with the values and principles we believe in at Purdue. Bigotry, racism, and hate are the antitheses of what the university stands for and are not welcome here. But we also are committed to freedom of expression and do not control what people post on their personal accounts, nor can we punish their speech, no matter how offensive or vile. That said, posts that constitute a true threat are not protected speech and would be subject to criminal consequences if law enforcement authorities determine the existence of such a threat.

Past and former students told News 18 they were disappointed in the university's decision to not take action against Lawrence.
A student even created a petition demanding the university reconsider its decision.

"It just really was a slap in the face to have to see the university say what they had said," said Spalding.

Spalding said seeing the university change its decision was not expected but he's happy with the outcome.

"It doesn't seem right to say that I'm happy to see something like this happen but I was just so full of joy to see that President Mitch Daniels had finally taken action and finally made the right choice when it comes to an incident like this," said Spalding.

Ceouna Hegwood agrees. She currently serves as Purdue University's Black Student Union President. She said this decision was long overdue.

"I'm thankful that they finally saw that this was an issue and that they needed to come up with a solution to fix this issue especially when there were so many students that were fearful for their safety because of the things that were said," said Hegwood. "It's about time like it's truly about time."

Hegwood said although she's pleased with the outcome, she's still keeping in mind the university's initial response.

"That initial response to me has value because how you first respond is how you truly feel," said Hegwood. "For me, you guys didn't see anything wrong with this at first, it wasn't until we applied pressure that we saw some change."

She said she has concerns that Black students could face backlash after this decision. 

"One of the biggest things with this decision is that we can not forget that our safety is what's important at this moment and we have to ensure the safety of the people in our black community," said Hegwood. "Because of this decision, there is going to be a backlash and there has been a backlash, there have been crazy things said, hurtful things said and threats."

Hegwood is hoping the university works to continue keeping Black students at the forefront. She said she hopes what happened at Purdue has an echo effect nationwide.

"Purdue is a leader in many ways we are a university that sets the standard for a lot of other universities, which is why I expected a better response from them initially," said Hegwood. "But to show that they are willing to take a stance for what is right and to make a point and to make an example out of this situation, I hope that with other situations similar to this at other universities, they can follow suit to ensure the safety of their students on their campuses as well."

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