On March 9, an anonymous individual attempted to target a member of Gonzaga’s Black community by using racist slurs against a Guest Services student employee at the Hemmingson Center Welcome Desk.

Gonzaga University sophomores Connor Hartman and Makayla Heiser were working at the desk when the caller directed racist slurs against Heiser when Hartman picked up the phone.

According to Hartman, the phone call began as normal and the caller asked what state Hartman was in. After responding, Hartman heard giggling in the background.

“I asked what was up, to which I got the rude response,” Hartman said.

The anonymous caller responded with a racist remark and hung up the phone.

“I don’t understand why somebody would think this is funny or entertaining,” Hartman said.

The Guest Services pro staff was alerted of the event by Hartman and Heiser soon after the call took place.

“When the Guest Services team was made aware, they responded immediately to the students who had taken the call, alerting security and they immediately took the report and began their investigation,” said Suzie Mize, associate vice president for Auxiliary Enterprises, which manages Guest Services.

“I definitely feel support from the people I’ve been in contact with,” Heiser said.

When campus security came to take statements from Hartman and Heiser, the officer asked Heiser if this “could be one of your friends playing a prank,” Heiser wrote in an Instagram post.

"I was really surprised that this white campus security officer thought that someone on our campus would make a joke like that,” Heiser said.

Heiser returned to work on March 12 when the same number called the Welcome Desk again as soon as Heiser began her shift.

“It’s scary because it means that someone knows when I’m working and somebody is watching me,” Heiser said.

Heiser assumed the person who called was a student.

“They sounded around our age or in my year. They sounded younger and male,” Heiser said.

In response to the call, an investigation is underway into tracking the racist phone call.

“Information Technology Services (ITS) has assisted in the ongoing investigation into the bias incident on March 9 led by Campus Security and Public Safety (CSPS), and the Spokane Police Department,” said Mary Joan Hahn, senior director of GU's community and public relations. “We are unable to share details so as to not interfere with the investigation. The perpetrator of the incident has not yet been identified. The University will, provided appropriate consent is obtained, offer additional information when and if it becomes available."

Guest Services have extended paid time off and support to Heiser.

“We are figuring out what we need to do going forward,” said Greg McGuire, operations manager for Guest Services. “It’s a difficult situation but we want to see what the best policies should be.”

According to Hahn, GU does not tolerate any forms of racism and is committed to eliminating racism from campus and holding perpetrators accountable.

"We encourage any student impacted by this incident to reach out to the Center for Cura Personalis for support and resources," Hahn said. "We also ask all members of the campus community to report incidents of racism and bias here, and to contact CSPS at 313-2222 if you are concerned for your safety."

Heiser hopes that tangible action steps are implemented to protect students.

“I deserve to be here just as much as anyone else and I don’t think someone who is going to disrespect someone because of the color of their skin or have these racist views should be allowed on campus,” Heiser said. “I want Gonzaga to hold this person accountable, I want Gonzaga to expel this person [if they’re a student] and show that if you hold these racist views, you are not welcomed here.”

Heiser has met with GU President Thayne McCulloh as of Tuesday.

“I want to make sure that the future generations of BIPOC students are protected, feel safe and are able to come to Gonzaga knowing they’ll be supported,” Heiser said.

This is not the first racist slur incident to happen during the 2020-2021 school year.

On Nov. 8, eight anonymous individuals used racist and homophobic slurs against Black Student Union members during the club's weekly Zoom meeting.

Two detectives with the Spokane Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Unit and the FBI facilitated a preliminary review and investigation on the November incident.

Campus security and other students have offered ride escorts for Heiser from her housing to work, but Heiser has declined.

“I don’t want this person — who has so much hate and anger in them — to get to control my life like that,” Heiser said. “I love working at Guest, I love what I do and I’m proud to be a Black woman. They’re not going to get that control, I’m not going anywhere.” 

Mila Yoch is the digital editor. Follow her on Twitter: @milagrosyoch.

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