OHSU Noose Incident Remains Unresolved

Not only are students and faculty alarmed, but the union may take the matter to arbitration.

Two days after the election of Donald Trump, a miniature noose was hung above a poster at Oregon Health & Science University Hospital, supposedly a joke, telling people to “bang head here” as a “stress reduction kit.”

Maria Frazier, a medical assistant, who’s African American, didn’t take it as a joke. A victim of a hate crime a few months earlier. Frazier became so traumatized seeing the noose on her way to the mail room, she hasn’t returned to work since and is on short-term disability.

Now, nearly two months later, an OHSU graduate student has come forward, demanding that the university apologize and publicly condemn what occurred. 

“As far as I can tell, OHSU has chosen silence and victim-blaming in the face of bigotry and told us nothing about this incident,” said Jenna Ramaker, a 32-year-old post-doctoral student, who learned about the incident watching KOIN TV. She’s talked to numerous students and faculty, all of whom have been appalled that OHSU leadership hasn’t openly discussed this incident. “As a member of the OHSU community for many years, I am saddened and disappointed; it doesn’t align with the values I thought OHSU had.”

Ramaker, who does not know either the victim or the perpetrator, reached out electronically to OHSU and received a generic response, saying the matter was being handled internally. Also, she never received a response from the Center for Diversity and Inclusion. .

“OHSU needs to publicly apologize and make sure this doesn’t happen again; until now the leadership has been silent and not forthcoming,” she said. “The OHSU community deserves to have the facts and have actions like this condemned. They owe the community of color an apology and explanation rather than sweeping it under the rug. As a white woman I need to start standing up when I see things like this going on.”

In late December, Matt Hilton, president of Local 328 of the American Federation of County, State and Municipal Employees, filed a grievance against OHSU, which was denied. Now the union may take the matter to arbitration, a decision which will be reached when its executive council meets later this month.

“OHSU’s position is that this wasn’t a racist symbol which is very unfortunate since it was intended that way,” said Hilton. “They’re saying it was intended as a joke, and the individual who put up the poster hasn’t been held accountable. I’m not sure in what reality you place a noose and have an African American see it and consider it funny. “I hope OHSU will do the right thing and create a respectful work environment for everyone.”

In response, OHSU spokeswoman Tamara Hargens-Bradley provided the following statement to The Lund Report:

“OHSU honors, respects, embraces and values the unique contributions and perspectives of all employees, patients, students and volunteers. We know that people work best when they feel safe and respected; we do not tolerate harassment or bullying.

“Like AFSCME leaders, OHSU has done a great deal of self-examination recently, seeking the most effective ways to ensure that every member of our workforce knows they are valued, rejecting intolerance and ensuring an environment that enhances well-being.

“Following the election, amid nightly protests in downtown Portland, OHSU President Dr. Joe Robertson was moved to reach out to OHSU staff with a reminder that we must remain steadfast in our drive to be a great organization, diverse in people and ideas.

“In his year-end message to staff Dec. 22, Dr. Robertson re-emphasized this commitment and encouraged all OHSU employees to reject intolerance and injustice: “Respect for all.”

“Regarding the grievance, OHSU thoroughly investigated the employee's complaint and subsequent grievance in accordance with well-established policies and procedures, and appropriate action was taken. OHSU does not tolerate discrimination or retaliation in the workplace. Out of respect for employee privacy, we aren’t providing further details.”

Diane can be reached at [email protected].

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