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White student expelled from Howard University’s law school sues alleging racial discrimination

The student displayed “a pattern of antagonizing actions against other students” attending the law school, a Howard spokesperson said.
An electronic signboard welcomes people to the Howard University campus, Tuesday, July 6, 2021, in Washington. An investigative journalist who won a Pulitzer Prize for her ground-breaking work on the bitter legacy of slavery in the U.S. announced Tuesday that she will not join the faculty at the University of North Carolina following an extended fight over tenure, and instead will accept a chaired professorship at Howard University.
The Howard University campus in Washington, D.C.Jacquelyn Martin / AP file

A white student who was expelled from Howard University’s law school is suing the historically Black university in Washington, D.C., alleging race discrimination and creating a hostile environment. 

Plaintiff Michael Ray Newman, who attended the Howard University School of Law in fall 2020 after having received a $26,250 annual scholarship, was expelled about two years later in September. The lawsuit, which Newman’s attorney filed Feb. 16 in Superior Court of the District of Columbia, says he suffered “emotional, mental and economic harm” and seeks more than $2 million in damages.

The suit is the result of a series of events in 2020 involving Newman’s making comments on a professor’s forum page where students engage in public debates and discussions. Newman moved the discussion to the forum after he voiced his opinion in a previous GroupMe chat about disagreeing with the Black community, saying “they believe government solves problems,” countering his belief that he saw it only as “causing problems,” according to court documents. 

Frank Tramble, a vice president and the chief communications officer for Howard, said that, while the university “declines to comment on pending litigation substantively, the University is prepared to vigorously defend itself in this lawsuit” and that the claims “provide a one-sided and self-serving narrative of the events leading to the end of the student’s enrollment” at Howard.  

Newman displayed “a pattern of antagonizing actions against other students” who were attending the law school, Tramble added. Examples he cites include Newman using the death of a law student to “further his views on COVID-19 and the vaccines.” He then was expelled for “disruptive and harassing conduct” per the university’s disciplinary policies.

The lawsuit claims Newman also compared himself in a Zoom chat box as a white student at a historically Black university to a Black student attending a predominantly white school, saying he felt “utterly disenfranchised.” After both incidents, many of Newman’s classmates contacted school administrators and sought his expulsion, some even complaining that the controversies he caused distracted from their studies, according to the suit.

After Newman apologized to his classmates formally and verbally, a classmate in January 2021 discovered and retweeted a July 2020 tweet from his private Twitter account, which showed the infamous image of the emancipated slave Gordon, also nicknamed “Whipped Peter,” posted with Newman’s tweet, “But we don’t know what he did before the picture was taken!” the suit says. 

Newman’s comments and backlash from students later prompted a one-on-one meeting with law school Dean Danielle Holley and Reggie McGahee, Howard’s global head of diversity recruiting. According to the suit, Holley suggested Newman transfer from the school and accused him of racially harassing students. On Jan. 31, 2021, Holley held a town hall with more than 300 participants that focused on the controversies surrounding Newman, with one student calling Newman’s comments “racist” and another saying he was “terrorizing the students,” according to the suit. 

During the town hall, Newman explained that his tweet of Gordon was intended “to voice support for racial minorities who suffered police violence.” Newman was permitted to join a new GroupMe chat in October 2021 but was permanently removed after a Black student accused him of “passive-aggressively attempting to insult yet another Black person in this GroupMe” following his comments about Howard’s lack of inclusivity. Newman later filed a formal complaint of racial discrimination with the university, alleging his exclusion “was motivated by racial animus.” However, an attorney tasked with investigating the matter closed the case, and said the allegation of racial discrimination “could not be substantiated,” according to the lawsuit. 

After the university reviewed a complaint filed by Holley, Newman was expelled in September. The suit claims Newman has lost employment benefits and opportunities and has undergone emotional anguish and pain, along with damage to his reputation. The suit also says that as a white student, Newman belonged to the racial minority at Howard.

An initial hearing is scheduled for April 21.