- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 19, 2016

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Saint Louis University is investigating - and condemning - racially insensitive texts sent last year by two members of the school’s overwhelmingly white baseball team, a top campus diversity official said Tuesday, calling the texts “appalling.”

First reported last week by the school’s student newspaper, the texts were sent in May using the group messaging app GroupMe, with one likening President Barack Obama to a “watermelon eatin baboon.”

The two players haven’t been publicly identified, and one of them no longer attends the 198-year-old Jesuit school, according to Jonathan C. Smith, who was made the campus’ special assistant to the president for diversity and community engagement last year in the wake of the 2014 fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson.

“This case is being handled in a very rigorous, strong process that focuses on accountability, justice and enfranchising the voices of the students who have been harmed. We are nowhere near the end of that process,” Smith, an assistant professor of African-American studies, told The Associated Press. “I have to say clearly and unequivocally that we, at every level of leadership here, are appalled.

“We are in clear agreement that we find that speech to be racist, offensive and clearly unacceptable.”

The questioned texts came roughly a year after a pair of racially insensitive incidents on the campus: A group of candles set outside a dorm for a vigil were rearranged into a swastika symbol, and a projector in a campus ballroom was altered to display several racist and anti-gay messages.

In the case of the baseball-related texts, former team manager Brenden Twomey and his girlfriend, who also is a student, reported the matter on April 4 to university’s Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity, Smith said.

Twomey, a black senior from Houston majoring in sports business, told the AP that after seeing the questioned texts “in real time,” he was reluctant to report it out of fear “the implications of the message would be harsh,” even though he was “angry at the comments.” His girlfriend noticed the screenshot of the texts as the couple thumbed through pictures on his old cellphone, “and she decided to act on that,” persuading him to report it.

While Smith said no decision has been made about disciplinary action, Twomey argued that failing to mete out punishment “would be hypocritical.”

“We’re at a school that prides itself on diversity and inclusion, and we’re supposed to embody a certain set of values … what’s the incentive for the players not to act in that racist, stereotypical way” if no repercussions result, he said.

Last week, the baseball team’s four captains signed a letter published by the school newspaper, The University News, apologizing “to anyone offended by the biased messages.”

“We, too, are frustrated, and we feel that the comments do not accurately reflect the values that we hold,” the letter read, adding that “to ignore such an incident would be remiss and detrimental to the SLU community.”

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