Student opens up about alleged racist incident

NICK FISHER, Executive Editor

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Kem Lieth didn’t expect the attention when she tweeted out an accusation against a former member of the UNI track team, JC Abrahamson.

She was just angry.

“Tonight he called me a nigga, literally spat at my face and said ‘go back to where you came from,’” reads Lieth’s tweet, posted at 2:35 a.m. Friday.

Abrahamson did not respond to the Northern Iowan’s multiple requests for comment.

Lieth’s account

The night began with a Homecoming tradition. Lieth, who’s in her second season as a member of the UNI women’s rugby team, had wrapped up a nursery-rhyme-themed scavenger hunt with her teammates.

Clad in a cow costume (portraying the cow jumping over the moon in “Hey Diddle Diddle”), Lieth, a senior psychology major, took to the Hill with her friends after dropping off some of her teammates.

The group found themselves outside of Domino’s on the Hill after a night of bar hopping. They encountered Abrahamson and his friends there just before 2 a.m.

Lieth said she first addressed a friend who was with Abrahamson, but Abrahamson approached her.

After Abrahamson approached her (he appeared to be intoxicated), Lieth said, she brought up derogatory comments he had made to her at an earlier date while at a party.

“He [had] said, ‘I heard you like tall white guys. I’m a tall white guy,’” Lieth said Abrahamson had told her on an earlier occasion. She indicated that he was referencing the size of his genitals.

According to Lieth, Abrahamson doubled down on the earlier statement.

“He said, ‘Oh, if you don’t like tall white guys then you can go back to where you came from,” Lieth said. “And I was like, ‘You can go back to where you came from. This is native land; it’s not any of ours, ya know? And he’s like, ‘Whatever, you’re just a n-word.’

“And I was like, ‘Excuse me? Say that again.’ And I did get in his face […] And that’s when he spat at me.”

Lieth said she grabbed him by the shirt then, and friends of both parties interceded.

“It all happened so fast and I was so angry,” she said. Lieth said the group got the attention of a Cedar Falls police officer across the street at Kwik Star and he intervened.

Cedar Falls Police records confirm a call for service to the address of Domino’s at 1:52 a.m. Friday morning.

Lieth said the police suggested that both parties go home safely, and Abrahamson’s friends apologized to her.

Lieth is a native of Storm Lake, and her parents are from South Sudan. Lieth said they’ve lived in the US for decades.

UNI response

UNI students received a statement via email from University Relations indicating that incident was being investigated by “the proper authorities.”

Melanie Majeed, Northern Iowa Student Government director of diversity, said UNI’s Bias Response Team (BRT) met Monday to discuss the incident.

“[This situation] had already moved to [The Office of Compliance and Equity Management], so yesterday was really just to update us on what was going on,” Majeed said in an interview with the NI Tuesday.

She said that multiple reports were received and speculated that those reports may have been directly filed with Compliance Equity Management, hence the situation falling under their immediate purview.

Majeed said the full investigation could take 60 days, per the university’s discrimination, harassment and sexual misconduct policy.

Majeed herself shared Lieth’s Twitter post on Facebook Friday, criticizing Abrahamson’s behavior. Her post was shared over 1,000 times.

She said she wasn’t accusing Abrahamson, but was trying to draw attention to the situation to make both Lieth and Abrahamson aware that the incident was being looked into.

“You’re innocent until proven guilty,” Majeed said. “But [the post] was just to bring awareness and to like move forward from last year — to know that she did tweet something, and something could be done about it.”

Intent of slur

The language Lieth has ascribed to Abrahamson has caused confusion among some.  Some have wondered whether the alleged use of the slur was meant to demean.

“He did say ‘nigga.’ He did not say, ‘nigger,’” Lieth said. “But it doesn’t matter, especially if you’re not in my circle of friends […] You don’t know me well enough to call me that. That word has a negative connotation, and you shouldn’t just throw it out there like that.”

Lieth added that Abrahamson’s alleged spitting made it clear to her that he used the slur out of ill-will.

Majeed said she reached out to Lieth encouraging her to file a report, although Lieth said she did not report the incident.

“It was two UNI students that were involved, so it is part of the university’s responsibility,” she said. She went on to say that UNI would like to know about situations such as this and have them on file.

“We had a lot of backlash last year about how the BRT wasn’t really active with the report and responding,” Majeed said. “So this was also a chance to prove ourselves and show that the university is doing something to make this a better place.”

Majeed also acknowledged that she was one of the university’s fiercest critics last academic year.

When asked whether this was the first racist incident she had experienced, Lieth laughed.

“No, it’s not,” Lieth said. “And I’m not saying it’s just been here at UNI either. I’ve always […] been a minority. I know a lot about oppression, systematic racism and things like that — I’m an educated person. So petty things don’t get to me because I know there’s a bigger system they’re a part of […] but if somebody chooses to be mean to you, you can tell that.”

Officials within the Office of Compliance and Equity Management told the NI that student privacy laws bar them from disclosing information on pending investigations.

To report a bias-related incident, visit uni.edu/brt

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