Three Black former members of Brown Mock Trial said they left the team between summer 2020 and fall 2021 over a pattern of racist behavior by certain other members.
In interviews with The Herald, the former members alleged that some members of the team made racist remarks about marginalized groups and devalued the contributions of Black team members. Among the incidents they cited was a 2019 text exchange preparing for the annual all-team costume party, in which one member proposed dressing up as “German soldiers (the good ones ofc)” or “Hispanic women with red lipstick.” Another cited incident involved a member downplaying the impact of colonialism on Africa.
In December, Aicha Sama ’24 — a former mock trial member who had left the team three months earlier — filed a Discrimination and Harassment Intake Form with the University, which was reviewed by The Herald. The form detailed her experiences of racism within the club as a Black member. In the months following her report, Sama said she was disappointed by the lack of action the University took in response.
In a statement sent to The Herald, Michael Chandler ’22.5 — who served as the mock trial team president during the 2021-22 academic year and will serve on its executive board this fall — wrote that the team is aware of racist and sexist incidents that have occurred in its history. He wrote that during his first two years, the team had “little to no infrastructure for dealing with instances of racism and sexism.”
During his time as president, Chandler wrote, he has tried to prevent instances of racism through trainings. He said he plans to schedule yearly community guideline discussions and strengthen the team’s ombudsperson role — an individual designated to voice members’ concerns to the executive board.
“Many of the executive boards in our past did not have inclusivity and diversity as a primary focus,” Chandler wrote. “That is not the case this year, and it won’t be the case in the future.”
Members of the executive boards from the 2019-20 academic year did not respond to requests for comment.
These incidents have now prompted further investigation of the mock trial team. Earlier this month, Allison Singleton ’22, one of the former team members, reached out to Undergraduate Finance Board Chair Amienne Spencer-Blume ’23 and described “deep inequities regarding the distribution of funding within the group,” Spencer-Blume and UFB Vice Chair Arjun Krishna Chopra ’25 wrote in an email to The Herald.
Mock trial received $40,446 — the fifth highest of any student group — during the 2018-19 school year, according to UFB data. UFB granted BMT such a large budget due to “a high degree of trust in the judgment of mock trial’s leaders,” Spencer-Blume and Chopra wrote. Because of Singleton’s statement, UFB has initiated an investigation of BMT’s use of funds.
“This feels racist”
Former mock trial members Singleton and Jared Jones ’22, who left the team before Sama joined, said that early on after joining the team, they felt their contributions were devalued because of their race.
At first, Singleton said, “I felt like, ‘Okay, this feels racist, but they’re not actually saying the N-word or anything I could explicitly point to.’”
But Singleton’s feelings changed in the fall of 2019, when her team planned its costumes for an annual all-team party. In a team GroupMe chat reviewed by The Herald, one member proposed dressing up as “German soldiers (the good ones ofc)” or “Hispanic women with red lipstick.” In response, another asked, “What is Hispanic aside from the lipstick?”
The original commentator responded, “The attitude. The colors of Mexico. The offensive accent. The sombrero. The sass.”
When a third member raised a concern that the suggestion was offensive, the second wrote that the person who suggested the costume is “somewhat Mexican” and that they “gave us all a Mexico pass.”
In response to the suggestion that they dress up as German soldiers, a member wrote, “Yes you all go as German soldiers and I’ll wear a huge Star of David. Totally appropriate and not offensive” and then suggested that another member could “bring her personal copy of Mein Kampf.”
After these messages, Singleton then wrote in the GroupMe and said, “I just want to make it clear that it’s not okay to even joke about dressing up as people of color for costumes. As the sole person of color on this team, it was extremely uncomfortable to read that.”
Some members in the chat apologized for their actions.
One wrote, “Sorry for my part in that. Didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable and I’ll be more careful in the future.”
Another wrote, “Same … did not mean to offend anyone and will be more careful in the future,” adding “:)” at the end.
But to Singleton, the replies to her message were insufficient. “The apologies I received in the GroupMe did not address the seriousness of the situation,” Singleton wrote in an email to The Herald. “Suggesting to dress up as an ethnic group for a party, is not simply ‘offensive’ or ‘uncomfortable’; it’s racist.”
Singleton noted that one member reached out to her outside of GroupMe with a more in-depth apology. But “without action, words often fall short,” she added.
The mock trial executive board wrote in an email to The Herald that the members who wrote those messages have since left or graduated. “The leadership working at that time does not reflect our current team nor do they represent the actions this e-board would take in that situation,” the board wrote.
A promise to change
After the exchange, Singleton reported the incident to the team but was disappointed by the response.
Caleb Eickmann ’21, who served on the e-board in spring 2019, said that in previous years, the team offered an anonymous form for members to share concerns, but otherwise had “fewer systems in place to handle instances of racism and sexism compared to later years.” In fall 2019, the team created the ombudsperson position, Eickmann wrote in an email to The Herald.
After seeing the comments in her team’s GroupMe, Singleton described her experience in November 2019 to Eickmann, who at the time served as the team’s ombudsperson. Eickmann then discussed the incident with the e-board.
The e-board believed that the best response would be to hold a training on bias and racism, but wanted to avoid a meeting solely on the specific situation, Eickmann said in an interview with The Herald. Before the end of the semester, the e-board members and Eickmann also individually met with the team members involved in the GroupMe chat to make clear that “that was not acceptable behavior on the team,” he said.
In spring 2020, Singleton checked in with Eickmann and found out that “no consequences resulted from” her complaint about the messages and no training had been held yet, she said.
Eickmann said the training did not occur in fall 2019 because the team had just a few weeks before the end of the semester, and the board had already planned a sexual assault prevention training, which limited schedule availability. Eickmann left after the fall semester to study abroad.
The e-board did not find a new ombudsperson or hold a diversity and inclusion training in the spring, according to BMT leadership.
In an email to The Herald, BMT leadership attributed the delay in finding a new ombudsperson and the lack of training to “the COVID-19 pandemic, the shutdown of many Brown organizations, the complete shutdown of college mock trial and the abrupt departure from campus.”
During the summer of 2020, an anonymous Instagram account called @blackivystories was created for Black students at Ivy League schools to share their experiences. Singleton submitted a post that was shared in August regarding her experiences with the team, she said.
In the post, Singleton described her teammates’ GroupMe comments and the subsequent lack of action by the e-board.
The Instagram post has received over 1,700 likes.
Eickmann said the e-board moved its diversity and inclusion training session — originally planned for the fall 2020 semester — up to summer 2020 because they felt it was important to hold the training as soon as possible in light of the Instagram post.
In response to the post, the 2020-21 e-board sent an Aug. 1 2020 email to its club members outlining the next steps they planned to take.
The email, which was reviewed by The Herald, discussed plans to address the concerns conveyed in Singleton’s post, including anti-racism and etiquette workshops, guidelines to respond to instances of racism on the team and a review of the team audition process.
The executive board mandated that all returning members attend a virtual anti-bias training before the fall semester, Eickmann said.
The new mock trial guidelines included a permanent ombudsperson position who would lead more frequent trainings, Eickmann said. Starting fall 2020, Eickmann said that each small team would be required to meet with the ombudsperson to discuss how to deal with potential issues.
“One of my goals was to try and make sure that that kind of situation, to the extent possible, wouldn’t happen again,” Eickmann said, referring to the GroupMe exchange.
Singleton said she left the team before the fall 2020 semester began.
“I felt like they only listened to me about the racist culture (when) I embarrassed them on social media,” Singleton said.
Jones had already left. He quit the team at the end of the spring 2020 semester because he said he felt that his negative experiences would only continue if he stayed.
“I had to sit there for a moment and say, ‘Look, I can continue on this path, knowing that these people will never change,’” he said. “That’s why I said I’m not going through this kind of stuff.”
The ombudsperson for fall 2020 led a general training for the team that October, which multiple members said failed to meaningfully address diversity and anti-racism within the club. The ombudsperson at the time did not reply for comment in time for publication. After the fall training, members said they saw little change in the team’s culture.
In spring 2021, during a social gathering in a dorm room, a white member of the team downplayed the impact of colonialism on Africa, multiple people present told The Herald.
The comment came after a discussion about that member’s dating app profile, during which the member said they would prefer to date people with knowledge of a specific work of European literature.
The comment about colonialism that followed was “insensitive,” said Adam Gendreau ’24, a former BMT member who was present at the social. “It really changed the tone in the room.”
Shortly after the comment, Sama and Gendreau left the room. The member apologized to Sama after she left the room and in a later message. The member declined to comment.
The mock trial e-board team wrote in an email to The Herald that they were made aware of these comments “several months” after the incidents occurred. The board contacted the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity and had the team member take diversity training through OIED “due to their specific comments.”
Sama decided to leave the team in September 2021.
“It was just a combination of bad experiences and the microaggressions that really led me to quit,” Sama said.
When Sama left the team, she sent an email to the e-board. The email, which was reviewed by The Herald, described her reasons for quitting and the comments that the team member had made in the dorm room.
“Part of me wanted to stay because I felt like leaving would mean that the microaggressions, problematic comments and overall mistreatment of women of color would ‘win,’ ” she wrote. “I now realize that the strong and healthy thing for me to do is to leave Brown Mock Trial.”
“Brown Mock Trial needs to do better,” she continued. “Diversity and inclusion training, better training for captains and creating a more intensive ombudsperson role needs to happen — and the burden should not fall on the few people of color in the club to make things right.”
In a response, the e-board wrote Sama that they were “making changes to make sure your experience isn’t replicated ever again.” One of these changes included implementing training with the OIED.
Chandler wrote to The Herald that the team has also worked with the Community Dialogue Project to develop guidelines for fostering a diverse and inclusive community within the club.
“Making sure my team knows that they are loved, supported and respected is my primary goal, and I will work to ensure that it is the primary goal for every executive board member that comes after me,” he wrote.
In the discrimination and harassment form she filed with the University in December 2021, Sama detailed her team member’s comments and wrote that the team treated her “very differently” because of her race. She also noted that she was the only Black woman on the team for most of her time with the club.
“I had to stop doing an activity I genuinely enjoyed because the environment was toxic and hostile for Black women,” she wrote.
Juana De Los Santos, assistant vice president of equal opportunity and diversity for the OIED, said that after students file a Discrimination and Harassment Intake Form, her office determines next steps in a meeting with an OEID officer. De Los Santos added that OIED cannot discuss individual cases filed in the past or that are currently pending.
“It saddens me to hear that a student may have been disappointed with our processes,” she wrote in an email to The Herald, adding that she welcomes them to reach out to the office to discuss their situation further.
Sylvia Carey-Butler, vice president for institutional equity and diversity, said that the BMT complaints were referred to the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards. “This was not something that OIED actually investigated and resolved,” said Carey-Butler.
Sama said she was referred to Kirsten Wolfe, associate dean and associate director of student conduct and community standards, and Dara Kwayera Imani Bayer ’08, who leads the University’s Transformative Justice Initiative. The Transformative Justice Initiative is a support program at the University that builds “the capacity of individuals and communities to respond to harm in transformative and non-punitive ways,” according to its website.
Wolfe directed most questions regarding the mock trial club and Sama’s complaint to the Student Activities Office but wrote in an email to The Herald that the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards reviews all complaints of code of conduct violations and, if warranted, “will conduct an investigative review to interview witnesses and collect all relevant information.”
Wolfe also wrote that if an allegation does not “rise to the level of a violation of the Code of Student Conduct, other options may be explored,” including no-contact orders, the Transformative Justice Initiative or restorative options through the Office of Student Conduct.
In the meeting with Bayer about the Transformative Justice Initiative, Sama said that Bayer outlined the ways in which mock trial could undergo an accountability process. Sama, who had left the team months earlier, told Bayer that she would not be part of the process.
“It’s not my place to have to fix their issues,” Sama said.
Bayer declined to comment.
Sama and Bayer met with an administrator from the Student Activities Office in January to further discuss how they could facilitate a better environment within the club. Sama said that was her last contact with both Bayer and the SAO administrator.
She said she was frustrated that the initiative wanted her to take part in planning how the mock trial team would address the racist incidents. Last month, Sama detailed her experiences with mock trial and the subsequent accountability process in a Medium post.
Even months or years after leaving, the pain of their experiences persists for members who quit the team.
Being a part of the team “robbed me of my confidence,” Singleton said. “It took a very long time for me to build back the confidence that they stole from me. … It felt like they were chipping away at my sense of self.”
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Sama objected to a mock trial member’s comment at a gathering. Sama did not object to the comment at the time. The Herald regrets the error.
Clarification: This article has been updated to clarify that the e-board wanted to hold a training addressing anti-racism and bias rather than a meeting specifically on the GroupMe messages.