Kellogg Incident Ignites Debate on Race

Posted by: Louis Lavelle on June 10, 2009

By Mandy Oaklander

We all like to think that we’ve evolved beyond the point where things like race matter. But matter they do.

Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management is in the midst of a heated controversy over a case of alleged racial profiling. The incident involved two administrators, both white, and a black student, Northwestern junior Joshua Williams. The case has ignited demonstrations, an apology from the police, and a promise from the Northwestern president to create a new advisory board to deal with these incidents.

Williams’ story, published in the online student magazine North by Northwestern, begins last month, when he was waiting at the Kellogg School of Management for his class in a nearby building to begin. According to Williams, he was approached by a Kellogg administrator. She asked if she could help him with anything; he declined. Minutes after she walked away, another administrator asked Williams about his reasons for being in the building. Williams said he was a student, but the man walked away unconvinced. “Had he asked for my identification card, he would have proved himself wrong. Instead he decided that there is no way this black boy dressed in baggy clothing could attend a school like this,” Williams wrote in an e-mail to Northwestern students.

Offended, Williams left the building. But less than five minutes later, he was stopped by a Northwestern police officer, who told Williams he had been contacted by the Kellogg administrator Williams spoke with last. After handing over his school identification, Williams waited while the officer called it in to see if it was stolen or fake.

The incident, which Williams describes as a case of racial profiling, sparked a series of student-led anti-racism initiatives at Northwestern, including a forum about racial profiling held on May 27. There, to an audience of over 100 peers, Williams and other students shared their experiences with racism on campus. Members of the Northwestern Police Department also made an appearance, including NU Chief of Police Bruce Lewis, who declined to speak with BusinessWeek. But according to a story about the event published in The Daily Northwestern, Lewis spoke on behalf of the police force at the forum. “We're not a perfect police department no more than we're a perfect community," said Lewis. “Even when our intentions are good, we make mistakes. When we mess up, we mess up, but we step up.”

So did Northwestern students. Last Friday, the black student union staged an outdoor rally, drawing about 75 students, faculty, and staff—as well as the local news station CBS Chicago, which filmed the event. Students called for specific solutions to the problem of racial profiling on campus. “At the forum, the police told us that it’s impossible to determine what is and is not racial profiling. When it’s the police’s word versus that of a student, the police are usually listened to,” Williams said in a phone conversation. To combat this, the rally called for the formation of a committee of students, faculty, staff, and police officers to specifically review cases of racial profiling. Students also await a university apology to Williams and a statement that the Kellogg administrator’s actions were his alone and not reflective of the university.

On June 9, Northwestern President Henry Bienen and Provost Daniel Linzer met the first of those challenges. In an e-mail to all of Northwestern, they wrote that the new Advisory Board would begin its partnership with the University Police at the beginning of the 2009-2010 academic year “so that our police regularly hear the perspectives of our students, faculty, and staff and incorporate these views in their policies and procedures.”

Williams received an apology from Angela Edwards-Campbell, Northwestern's director of diversity and inclusion, and Sunil Chopra, the senior associate dean of curriculum & teaching, who could not be reached for comment. Williams is still trying to find out the identities of the administrator who confronted him at the Kellogg building. Williams says he's been told by Pamela Pirtle, the associate director of equal employment opportunity, that the investigation was complete and the administrator had been cleared. Through Pirtle, Williams says he requested to meet with him, but the administrator refused.

“Previously, I was quoted as having been satisfied with the way the university was handling the situation," Williams says. "But I’m not anymore.”

What's everyone else think? Did Northwestern handle this properly? Or should it have taken a harder line with the administrator? Is racial profiling on campus something that others have encountered? Is it getting better or worse? Are other schools doing anything about it?

Reader Comments


June 11, 2009 10:30 AM

People need to put things in perspective. Maybe student need to dress more. appropriately. A gangster looking person wondering around campus, staff suppose to do nothing? Some people are just too sensitive.


June 11, 2009 3:11 PM

To the poster above, who said he was dressed like a gangster? Baggy pants = gangbanger? Maybe people need to be a little more open-minded, not desensitized. What exactly does an "intelligent" person look like?


June 11, 2009 4:38 PM

Agreed Bill.
If he is supposed to attending class in the nearby building, what is he doing in the Kellogg building? And he is saying it is administrators fault for questioning him.
Can anyone prove that those administrators have not asked similar questions to other suspicious (looking) students of other races? And just because in this case the student was black (and too sensitive), he choose to make it an issue. This definitely doesn't require this much attention.


June 11, 2009 5:59 PM

I have been following this story and am really bothered that Joshua's story keeps changing. In North by Northwestern (, he said that was walking around the building when he was stopped. At the forum at the multicultural house which I attended, he said that he was wandering around the building and then after being approached, he decided to visit his professor who has an office in the building. Now, he is saying that he was waiting for a class to begin??!! Why didn't someone from the press check to see if he really had a class in the building? What is he going to say next? I guarantee that when the results of the investigation are released, everyone will find out that Joshua has not been honest in his account of the incident and that the nature of his "profiling" will be called into question. He brought attention to himself because of his behavior and not his skin color. There is a very real issue of racial profiling by the NUPD and this situation is not related and is noting but a distraction. Tell the truth Joshua!!!


June 12, 2009 10:58 AM

I agree that this incident doesn't seem to fit with the students' issue with the police department. If in fact, Joshua is found to have embellished the truth, I would imagine that this would weaken the overall efforts of the student activists. It seems that he has gotten everyone riled up but did anyone stop to check the facts. I think it's time for some responsible reporting for this blogger and CBS News to get to the facts before accusing administrators who responded to suspicious behavior of racial profiling. Stick to the real issue at hand - misconduct of the NUPD!

Ellen K

June 12, 2009 11:25 AM

As a student at NU, I have to ask the obvious question - why isn't anyone reporting on the other stories that were related at the forum and rally??!! No disprect to Joshua, but his story pales in comparison to the other stories told that were far more blatant and appalling. I am becoming very suspicious of the students' and Joshua's motives as this plays out. I am way more concerned about mistreatment from the police than being unwelcome in a graduate school building where undergrads have little business. Am I missing something here?

BW Editor Louis Lavelle

June 12, 2009 2:10 PM

Folks, thanks for posting your comments--sounds like this was something that really touched a nerve on campus. I'd like to address the comments suggesting that BW's reporting was irresponsible. The fact is only a small group of people know what happened--one of them is Joshua and the others are unidentified, making it impossible for us get their side of the story. We tried to get the administration and the police to discuss what happened, but both declined. Second, nobody (except Joshua) accused anyone of racial profiling. Our headline refers only to an "incident" at Kellogg, and the whole sequence of events described by Joshua in his letter was directly attributed to him, as was his description of those events as a case of racial profiling. As for why we didn't report the other incidents described by speakers at the rally, we weren't there and it didn't come up in our reporting.

Louis Lavelle, Associate Editor, BusinessWeek

Kellogg student

June 12, 2009 4:09 PM

Louis, I appreciate your response but that certainly doesn't excuse publishing "facts" that are not validated. I'm sure you could have looked into whether or not he really had a class in the building. His class schedule, which he could have produced, would have shown that. It's called due diligence. This article was meant to make Kellogg look bad regardless to whether it is true or not. The damage to Kellogg is already done regardless of the truth. Your reporter, who is a NU undergrad, and BW should know better.


June 13, 2009 1:14 AM

This is a very sad commentary. Brains come in people of all different backgrounds, styles, and ethnic backgrounds. It is just surprising to see this kind of report about such a highly regarded institution.

MBA Blog

Also concerned

June 14, 2009 1:14 PM

One of the questions posted at the end of the article is "Is racial profiling on campus something that others have encountered?" It seems to me that Amanda and BW are stating that what happened at Kellogg was in fact racial profiling. If not, what is the point of the series of questions?


June 15, 2009 10:22 AM

A few years ago I was slowly walking down the street after midnight, eating my Haagen Dazs straight out of the container. Suddenly, an unusual looking Black guy came out of nowhere. Walked right behind me.
The residential street was deserted. I didn't speed up or run, as I didn't want to seem like a racist or a racial profiler. My city doesn't have a high crime rate, and is known for its racial harmony.
I slowly crossed the street. He quickly followed...came right up, holding what was supposed to seem like a gun. He grabbed my hand bag. I resisted. He started running away.
(Do I regret not running away earlier and possibly committing an act of "racial profiling"? Yes. Definitely.
Who cares what the "other guy" thinks. My safety should come firts. If you dress like you wanna belong in the "hood", what am I supposed to think?)
It is not my fault that there is such a high % of young Black men... in trouble with the law, and I shouldn't-wouldn't compromise my safety ever again because of anyone's "feelings". This guy was not only Black. He looked strange too. He was wearing a raincoat in July.
While he was running away, I screamed and started chasing him. Some customers from a neighbouring bar heard my screams and caught him at the end of the block.
The police arrived and took him away.
The man was a patient at a nearby psychiatric hospital.
Confronted with a similar situation again (a strange looking Black guy) I'd run to the nearest front door and ask for help).
In retrospect, I don't know how I dared to chase the guy. The entire scene was surreal.
Every society has its non-spoken language, and clothing is part of that silent communication. If Obama had dressed like he was from the "hood" would he have been elected? Would anyone get elected in such attire?

Louis Lavelle

June 15, 2009 10:41 AM

Could we have reported this incident further? Absolutely...we could have asked Joshua for his class schedule, then taken it to the registrar to make sure it wasn't a fake, then hunted down everyone who ever knew him for character references...As journalists you can always do more. But in a case where the police chief basically said "we goofed" it seemed then (and seems now) unnecessary, and would have delayed publication of a story that obviously has a lot of interest. As for the questions at the end, they were intended to get people talking about the issues that were obviously raised by this incident. Also Concerned, you're reading a lot into that sentence. It came at the end of a long blog post on an incident of ALLEGED racial profiling. In that context, asking people if they've encountered racial profiling on their own campus doesn't imply anything at all about what happened (or didn't happen) to Joshua. just doesn't.

Louis Lavelle, Associate Editor, BusinessWeek


June 15, 2009 3:14 PM

I found not much wrong with the administrator's actions. If I saw a thug looking person wearing baggy clothes and looking around as if he is on drugs, I would do the same thing. The student needs to uphold the spirit of the school by dressing appropriately and avoid giving the "perception" that he does not belong. Having said that, the administrators need to show respect despite any suspicion. They cannot act unconvinced unless there is evidence for the same. I am going to say 70% fault to the kid and 30% fault to the admins given what I have read in this article.


June 15, 2009 5:31 PM

WOW!!! It does not surprise me that people believe that this was not racially motivated, you have to see it, experience it, live it to believe it. MOST of the people replying in this blog seem intelligent, no one has to say it for it to be true. The problem is what we as Americans or white America for that matter percieve to be "strange" "unusual" or "thug". So what if he choses to wear bagging clothing, what can you judge from that?? Wake up people, get past yourselves. And SMTalich, you really have an issue. You cant judge a whole race of people for the acts of a few. Im trully sorry for what happened to you but thats one incident. Im sure plenty of "unusual" looking black people have walked past you who without realizing you even existed. If you say you live in a town with "racial harmony" why would you think that all black people rob and steal? But if you are going to stereotype based on what happened to you, why dont you just profile ALL people who look "unusual", or ALL men, or ALL people wearing rain coats??? But for some reason it always seems to stop at black. Funny how that works. I applaud BW and those who contributed to this blog, its news and should be reported even when people dont want to believe it.


June 16, 2009 3:50 AM

I am from Australia and will be attending Kellogg this fall ... I am also of ethnic descent and am no stranger to racism (in both discreet and overt forms) here in my home country. Having said that, I don't think what I have seen in my short life here in a relatively "sheltered" Australia could prepare me for what I am about to be exposed to in the US in general.

As always there are two sides to the coin ... agreed that racial profiling is an issue because unfortunately stereotypes do exist, as stated by SMTalich. However, stereotypes rarely evolve based on non-truths, even if it is only representative of the minority - and this of course causes people to err on the side of caution when presented with unfamiliar situations.

On the other hand, society shouldn't be coerced into conformity based on what is considered "right" within reason and this is where the conceptual definition wanders into a grey area as everyone has a different opinion. The argument that Joshua's alleged clothing was a contributing factor to his run-in with the NUPD is logically sound however it is also unfair. However, if Joshua was white, wearing a long, dark trench coat and had a shaved head with multiple tattoos and piercings, would you be worried if you saw him loitering around campus? I'm not suggesting anything about what this person may be like, rather questioning what people's reactions would be. I imagine they probably would have called the NUPD as well.

Perception is most definitely the driver behind all this. I think that people need to definitely be less precious about racial profiling and what is perceived as racism as the more one whines and complains, the worse it seems to portray them as the alleged victim. I personally feel that the more subtle unseen acts of racism (such as exclusive memberships at particular organisations or unspoken company hiring policies) are the more damaging issues we face in life. However, I need not remind anyone of the effect two seemingly “regular-looking” kids from Columbine or one “quiet, loner” Asian kid studying in Virginia could have on so many lives ... I’m sure in hindsight that if Joshua ended up committing a horrible crime that the NUPD would have been one of the first people to cop the blame ... it goes both ways.

Mike D

June 16, 2009 12:15 PM

As a young Black American man and as a International Business student at one of the US's top IB-Schools (well, that's what they say anyway, haha), I can relate to the incident here on several levels.

I believe that profiling as a whole is not completely wrong, but when profiling becomes an emotionally-driven process rather than an intelligent or informed one, things almost never turn out well (Seriously- how many Blacks commit crimes on upper-tier B-School campuses? Has ANYONE ever heard of anything like that?). I also believe that RECURRING instances of negative racial profiling from any one man or entity shouldn't be taken lightly, and should be brought to peoples' attention, as was done at Northwestern.

On the other hand, my fellow successful and/or educated young black/latino men should keep in mind that racially-driven incidents WILL happen when we reach a position of ascendancy- whether it be something as serious as negative profiling by authorities-that-be, or something as minute and petty as an ignorant comment by an associate or coworker. That's just the way things are, even in 2009 (admittedly, these things happen a whole lot less these days). When these incidents happen, let it be a reminder why we ("we" as in "you and I") worked so hard to get into top universities, grad schools, and jobs in the first place- our generation is responsible for helping to be the light that counters the darkness and negativity that have surrounded our people- specifically our age group- for years. Are you up for the challenge?


June 17, 2009 1:53 AM

I strongly believe that had it been an individual of any other race dressed in baggy clothing (or clothing inappropriate for a top-tier business school) he or she would have been flagged as a non-MBA student as well.


June 17, 2009 8:35 AM

SMTalich, in your post you seemed to imply a several disheartening things, but I'll point out the most alarming. You drew a connection between this kid - an NU student, a psychiatric patient who attempted to rob you, and the President of the United States... and all because of what? Race. Are you serious?!!

That's the problem here, there should be no parallels, there cannot be any parrellels, if we hope to live in a world that judges people by the content of their character (and not their eye color, style of clothes…) The most alarming part of the NU story is that the police have admitted wrong doing - they checked (and thus most probably believed) Joshua's student identification to be fake, by virtue of the fact that he was dressed in "baggy" clothing. There was no mention of suspicious behaviour just that happened to be in a building of a school that he is paying possible $35,000+ to attend. I'm sorry but if I pay that kind of money, regardless of my attire, I would be utterly disgusted and appalled to be interrogated by anyone (administrator or police officer) as to why I happen to be in any building or area that my dollars are helping to keep lit and active. I acknowledge that his story appears to be inconsistent, but his actions as reported to not warrant the suspicions of the authorities or the administrators - I am sure this is the reason university representative and police felt it necessary to put forward apologies and set up forums to discuss the issue.


June 17, 2009 8:47 AM

I really like the comment of Mike D and completely agree with his views.
I can also relate to racism, because in India we have had the worst form of racism for more than 3000 years now. It's called 'Untouchability'. Of course, if you ask any Indian in Kellogs or in any top MBA schools, he would deny it. But if anyone is interested in 'seeing' the reality...check out 'India Untouched' on Youtube
Sorry for digressing. If such a minor incident has attracted so much attention, then I wonder why the issue of untouchability does not get taken up by world media?


June 17, 2009 11:06 AM

Why is racial profiling wrong? If you take statistical information and apply it to a potential for his clothing, you can probably thank a lot of different people for that stereotype, not the least of which is the gang communities that dress that way, Hollywood which continues to portray that dress as gang related. Maybe if we all just stopped listening to Hollywood and it's glorification of ALL stereotypes (see A Time to Kill and watch for the red-neck in a wife beater) Remember, if it dresses like a duck, walks like a duck, it's either a duck or someone trying to make a statement.

Travis M

June 17, 2009 12:07 PM

I think this story needs a little perspective. I'm a graduating Kellogg student and have spoken to a member of the administration about the incident.

The student in question was an undergrad in the Kellogg building. While undergrads use one auditorium in the corner of the building for classes on occasion, we typically don't see them in most areas. In fact, since undergrads were starting to take over the limited study areas in Kellogg, these areas have been designated as "Kellogg Students Only" just to make some space! Undergrads have been asked to leave on numerous occasions.

This student was seen wandering around the building, ducking in and out of classrooms, and thus was approached by administrators and then police. Was he described to police as a young black man with baggy clothing? Yes. Does that mean that he was profiled because of race? I don't think so. Any young kid seen ducking in and out of classrooms in the Kellogg building is exhibiting suspicious behavior and would have been stopped.

You must understand the context, too. We have recently had another incident where young suspicious (white) males entered a Kellogg classroom wearing trenchcoats and sunglasses, sat in the back row and behaved very strangely. For good reason, the professor and students were very concerned about potential violence. The professor asked then to take off their sunglasses (they refused) and they left. She quickly called campus police to investigate. Since this incident, campus police have been very quick to respond to any kind of incident involving people who appear out of place or behaving strangely at Kellogg.

Hope this offers a little perspective to the story. I'm not trying to defend profiling. My African roommate could share many stories about this practice! I just don't believe this incident was racially motivated.


June 17, 2009 7:22 PM

Travis M, Your post certainly provides some perspective on the issue. But here’s the problem for the this young kid – you go through these types of situation enough and you start to lose that sense of certainty about what action is racially motivated and what is not, You start to question the motive behind all sorts of actions, ultimately you start to even question yourself. That’s enough to drive you insane. If this had happened to a white kid, maybe he’d shrug it off easily. To a black kid in the context of fairly constant racial discrimination, it’s much harder to shrug off.
I have to say though that it does seem strange that the staff didn’t ask for an ID and the police didn’t believe Joshua’s ID was genuine. It doesn’t matter if he was loitering, he had a student’s ID and a right to be there.

Another Kellogg Student

June 19, 2009 7:34 PM

Dig, it doesn't matter if he has a student ID or not. Much of Kellogg's building is off limits to undergrads. Had he been in any one of these locations he could have an ID and he still would not have had a right to be in that area. All Kellogg students are at least 2 years out of undergrad, most are in their mid to late 20s. Its pretty easy to tell that some baby faced 19 year old doesn't belong no matter what their skin color.

There were several incidents of theft this year, and its highly unlikely any kellogg student would be doing that. People can easily enter the building and there are often laptops and other valuables minimally guarded. Its a lot easier to ask people who obviously don't belong than risk something happening.

Another Kellogg student

June 29, 2009 1:51 PM

Travis, I'm so glad to see your posting!! I knew that there was more to this incident. It just wasn't adding up. With the increase of violence on campuses, I am glad to know that staff at Kellogg is being more diligent about safety.

As for DIG's comments, I don't think you want staff asking people for their ID. They are not trained to deal with these situations and should call the police who have the appropriate training. What if he had been dangerous and they approached him for his ID? I also think the facts are getting twisted here. The cops did not think his ID was fake. They checked it in the system and then let him go which is routine (see his original posting to verify this). Part of the problem is the sense of entitlement that students have. Just because you pay tuition, does not give you access to all parts of the campus! Can a student wander around the medical school or hospital going in out of rooms? Of course not. Tuition grants you access to campus resources, classes, etc but you are also expected to conduct yourself appropriately. Wandering in and out of classes in a building without good reason is not proper conduct not is a right. No matter how you spin it, it just isn't! He's never explained why he was wandering around the building. Was he looking for something or someone?

Maybe Kellogg should post some signs around the building to make it clear that it is a place of business and not a place to hang around, especially if you are not even a Kellogg student.

July 13, 2009 6:14 AM

I think the way the story was narrated was exaggerated to the point that it made the entire incident a 'racist issue'. It would be for the best if concrete evidences are shown to prove that such things occured and not rely on the statements given by one side.

NU student: undergrad, don't know Josh, has had classes in Kellogg

July 21, 2009 4:10 PM

Yes, Kellogg's students are mostly older than the typical undergrad and dress more professionally. Yes, African Americans do not make up much of the Kellogg community. So what?
Kellogg is part of NU. Undergrads have classes in Kellogg as well. It's not like it's your private property. Remember that. Just because you go to class in suits and ties doesn't mean you can judge others.
Plus, Prof. Witte has an office there and Josh said he was going to see him, not waiting for a class.

Felix B Maduro Panama

November 30, 2010 6:27 PM

I usually don't ordinarily post on many Blogs, still I just has to say thank you... keep up the amazing work. Ok regrettably its time to get to school.

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