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NU investigates claim of stuffed animal hanging by its neck near desk of a black employee

Northwestern University will not offer human sexuality class this fall after nationwide notoriety. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Northwestern University will not offer a human sexuality class this fall after nationwide notoriety. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: February 28, 2013 6:45AM

Northwestern University is investigating a claim of racial harassment by a black employee who allegedly found a stuffed animal hanging by its neck near his desk at the school’s Evanston campus last month.

Michael Collins, a maintenance worker, said he immediately filed a report with campus police the morning of Dec. 3 after finding a black panda teddy bear dangling next to his desk at the university’s Tech Institute building, 2145 Sheridan Rd., where he works distributing parts to various tradesmen, such as plumbers.

“Obviously Northwestern University takes such matters very seriously,” said Alan Cubbage, vice president for university relations. “The university is investigating the allegations in regard to this incident and we are doing so very thoroughly.”

Collins, who lives in the south suburbs, has worked at the university for five years.

“I am not taking it as a joke. Stuff like that hits home to black Americans. … I had a cousin who was hung in the ’60s in Mississippi by the Klan,” he said.

Collins said he filed two previous complaints with the university because a co-worker called him a racial slur in separate incidents several days before he arrived to work on a Monday to find the strung-up teddy bear.

The school “does not tolerate any form of harassment in the workplace,” said Cubbage, who couldn’t provide details of the investigation.

Collins said problems began when he severed a Facebook friendship with a co-worker after seeing racist comments on his page.

Collins filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in which he also claims he’s been skipped over for promotion.

“It seems like the folks here at the university just want this to go away,” said Collins, who hopes to open a dialogue about race at the workplace.

“The biggest thing is, I don’t want anything like this to happen again.”

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