KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A group of Missouri State University students is seeking the dismissal of the school’s highest-ranking Hispanic official, alleging he made derogatory comments about black students and created division between different racial groups.
The Springfield Coalition for Minority Advancement said in a statement Monday that it had submitted a petition to university administrators for the dismissal of Juan Meraz, who is assistant vice principal of multicultural services. The group cited an audio recording of Meraz criticizing the school’s Multicultural Resource Center as being hostile to anyone who isn’t black and making other racially divisive statements.
Meraz did not return a phone call Monday from The Associated Press.
The petition, signed by nearly 100 people, said Meraz had used discriminatory remarks and actions that showed he was not capable of being effective in roles that require cultural competence and ethical leadership.
The complaints come less than a month after the university’s top black official resigned after an investigation by outside attorneys found “no credible evidence” that the university discriminated against him.
A student aired concerns about Meraz to the school’s Office for Institutional Equity and Compliance in December but did not file a complaint, according to Wes Pratt, the university’s chief diversity officer. Pratt said the complaint involved alleged discrimination based on race but he would not divulge specifics.
The university began an informal investigation before the office was told the student was now considering a more formal complaint, which has not yet been filed .
Pratt, who said he is a friend of Meraz, was director of the Office for Institutional Equity and Compliance when the original complaint was filed but has since been promoted. The woman investigating the informal complaint, Melissa Berry, did not return a call from the AP.
“The university has been actively involved in issues of diversity and inclusion for number of years,” said Pratt, who has worked on diversity issues at the university since 2007. “Do we have room for improvement? Of course, all higher education institutions need to improve.”
Pratt said Meraz has been committed to working on diversity for several years.
“Perhaps he overstepped and said some things he shouldn’t have said (in the recording),” Pratt said. “The process will take place and those issues will be addressed.”
The student coalition did not provide names or phone numbers on its news release and did not return an AP email requesting comment.
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