Voice-mail message sparkscharges of discrimination

by Nancy Ngo

The Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action may decide by Wednesday whether a complaint alleging discrimination by the diversity and outreach director for the University’s Office of Student Development and Athletics warrants a departmental investigation.
The complaint alleges that Kenneth Foxworth, who also serves as assistant director of Housing and Food Services, engaged in behavior that was racially discriminatory.
Kenneth D. Sanders, a vending mechanic at Vending Services, filed the complaint Wednesday.
Sanders states in his complaint that “a message was left on the voice mail at our main department phone, which I and others feel is offensive and insensitive by Ken Foxworth.”
The voice-mail message referred to in the complaint was left by Foxworth for John Walker, the director of Food Services.
Foxworth said in the message that Walker needed to change his voice mail greeting, “because it says Don Blotner, and I know you’re not white.”
Don Blotner was the previous director of Food Services. Blotner left the department in September.
Sanders was surprised to hear such a comment from Foxworth, whose job involves dealing with sensitive diversity issues, Sanders said.
“When it comes to the head of diversity, why doesn’t he have to be sensitive, too?” Sanders said.
Foxworth said he does not know what might be considered derogatory or racist about the message. “That’s the question I have,” Foxworth said.
Foxworth said that he apologizes if some found the message offensive.
The message was heard through the departmental voice mailbox by at least seven food and vending services employees. Employees have access to Walker’s voice mail for service purposes.
Sanders said the message was also forwarded to people outside of the department.
Blotner, who was referred to in the recording, was forwarded a copy of the message.
“Personally, I have taken no offense,” Blotner said. Blotner said the incident was blown out of proportion and taken out of context.
“John Walker is not Caucasian, and he is not Don Blotner,” he said.
Walker said he heard the message, which was addressed to him, after other employees had already heard it.
He said he heard about negative feelings about the message indirectly, but no one has spoken to him about problems with the message content. “If someone is offended by the message, then they should share it with me,” he said.
Walker said he will not comment on his feelings about the message until he has more information about the complaint.
He said he will cooperate if the equal opportunity office chooses to investigate the case. “I’m not going to hinder the process of the investigation,” Walker said.
John Felipe, assistant director of the equal opportunity office, said there is no set time line for determining whether a complaint will be investigated. “The earliest is one week,” he said.
He said that the process of adjudicating a discrimination complaint begins with clarifying the information included in the complaint.
“We make a determination whether or not it has merit and if it falls under the jurisdiction of this office,” Felipe said.
Felipe said he could not specifically discuss Wednesday’s complaint because it is a pending case.
In the meantime, the message has generated much discussion among food and vending services employees.
Brian Lowe, senior stores clerk for Vending Services, said that there has been some talk among employees about the content of the message and its implications.
“It wasn’t meant to be malicious and I know that. But people have the right to be offended if they want to be,” Lowe said.
Lowe said that when he first heard the message he was not offended, but he thought it was inappropriate. “But then when I thought of who it came from, I was offended.”
Fay Choban, an executive assistant at Food Services, also heard the message. She said the message did not offend her because it was not intended to be heard by others in the department.
“The message was a call between two people. How it is interpreted, I can’t control,” Choban said.
Ron Campbell, associate vice president for the Office of Student Development and Athletics, is Foxworth’s boss.
Campbell said any discrimination investigation that might take place should consider that the message was intended as a private communication that was only incidentally left on a communal voice mailbox.
Campbell said the circumstances on which the complaint is based have been under serious consideration by the department. He is not sure how the department will handle the complaint and said he hopes the equal opportunity office can recommend what actions to take.
“I hope that we have an opportunity to do a proper investigation with all sides given, so that it is clearer what has occurred,” Campbell said.