Student says he was racially discriminated against on Northwestern shuttle

Tori Latham and Hayley Glatter

A graduate student told The Daily a Northwestern shuttle driver discriminated against him because of his race as he rode the Intercampus Shuttle from NU’s Evanston campus to its Chicago campus Friday afternoon.

A dispute arose on the shuttle between the driver and the student around 3:35 p.m., when the student claimed the driver attempted to force him off the bus for laughing too loudly. The student, who is black and requested anonymity for professional reasons, said he and a classmate were sitting in the front seat of the bus discussing homework when the driver singled him out and told him to be quiet. The student asked the driver for his name and that of the driver’s manager, at which point the student said the driver threatened to remove him from the bus.

Other passengers on the bus said they were not bothered by the noise level, but the driver proceeded to pull over just south of the Sheridan/Loyola shuttle stop and sit idly for about 20 minutes. The student did not leave the bus, but one of 11 other passengers did get off while the bus was stationary.

The bus driver eventually resumed the route at approximately 3:55 p.m. The student said he made calls to multiple NU entities including Transportation/Shuttle Services and University Police and is filing a report with the University.

Upon arriving at the Chicago campus, the shuttle was met by a Transportation Services official and a police officer. After speaking with the official, the driver returned to the bus and continued on his route. The student also spoke to the NU official after leaving the shuttle.

The driver deferred comment to Transportation Services who had no comment at the time of publication.

The student told The Daily the driver’s actions were racially motivated and questioned why he was singled out.

“As a black person, I hate saying that because it sounds like I’m race-baiting, but it was 100 percent the case,” the student said. “If a white woman was sitting next to this man laughing just as loudly as he was, why was she not attacked, threatened in a similar manner? Why did this escalate? Why did he describe me as unruly and aggressive in order to fight the transportation department?”

Bruce Lewis, NU’s associate vice president of public safety and chief of police, told The Daily the University is still investigating the incident following the complaint submitted by the student. The University removed the driver from his NU-affiliated routes Friday, Lewis added. The driver is employed by Free Enterprise Systems, a company that owns and operates shuttles for NU.

“I did not believe his actions were appropriate, not in line with Northwestern University values, nor did they meet our expectations of service delivery,” Lewis said. “The company will address this as a personnel matter, but as the university, we do have the latitude and authority to remove drivers from our account when we believe we have reason to do so and it’s well-founded.”

Lewis said officials will meet with Free Enterprise Systems’ management and senior management teams to address the issue. He added that they are working with the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion to discuss the potential racially discriminatory dimension of the incident.

This story was updated June 2 at 10:30 a.m. with additional information.

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