Running late by one minute was all it took to upend Jordan Afolabi’s student life and send it rushing down a dystopian spiral, leading to him being sanctioned, suspended and arrested.
“The university continues to deal with me as an active threat despite its own finding that I was a victim of an attack to which I responded,” he said.
The University of Windsor did not comment.
“We are unable to comment due to legal issues and also privacy issues associated with the personal information of individuals,” John Coleman, director, Public Affairs & Communications said via email.
Last February, Afolabi, then 27, was rushing past hordes of students at the University of Windsor, heading towards the Odette School of Business. He was running late for his class in Human Resources Planning and as he reached the entrance he pushed the door open. It hit a student.
The following account of the incident is based on a report after an external investigation by a law firm in June and a letter from the university in July that took a stance based on that report.
According to Afolabi, the student who was hit said “Yo, what the f— was that?” The investigator couldn’t determine the exact words but said they were to that effect.
Afolabi said, “Don’t f— with me. I don’t have time for this today.”
The other student, who is bigger than Afolabi, gave different versions of what happened next to campus police, Windsor police and the investigator. He said he pushed Afolabi; he also said he didn’t touch him at all. Afolabi told the investigator the other student pushed him with both hands on the chest when they were between the two sets of doors. Afolabi’s laptop backpack fell to the floor and his airpods fell out of his ears.
Afolabi, who is trained in mixed martial arts and boxing, responded by hitting him in the face, twice. Afolabi told the investigator he was suffering severe pain in his lower back after what he thought was an injury during weightlifting. The pain eventually turned out to be appendicitis which later ruptured and had to be removed in an emergency procedure. Afolabi also told the investigator he perceived the other man as a threat and reacted knowing he could not withstand the pain of a strike.
The other student came toward him again, and in response Afolabi punched him twice more.
The investigator wrote Afolabi was “more likely than not” reacting to the aggression to protect his back.
The other student, who is white or white-passing, told the external investigator he sustained major injuries from Afolabi’s punches to his lips, mouth and nose, and has anxiety. He also feels dizzy, he said, and saw a neurologist in April.
He filed a criminal complaint against Afolabi with Windsor Police in April. Afolabi was arrested by police and held overnight at the station. The crown later withdrew all charges.
“That any level of violence was used by either party at any time during this confrontation, is in my estimation a confirmation of poor judgement on the part of both the Complainant and the Respondent,” wrote Ryan Flannagan, the university’s associate vice-president, Student Experience in his letter in July. Using the external investigator’s finding that Afolabi’s punches “were delivered in response to acts of aggression” by the other student, Flannagan found that Afolabi had not violated the university’s student code of conduct, and that he used “a reasonable level of force” to defend himself.
Flannagan issued an “unofficial admonition” to both students but acknowledged that both students are large “relative to the general population,” and they could have both seen each other as genuine threats.
So far should have been so good. But it wasn’t.
By the time this letter from the university came out in July, the situation had wheels of its own and ran into an abyss.
Right after the incident, Afolabi called one of his brothers and while on the phone ran into his human resources professor — the one whose class he had been going to — and asked him for advice. Afolabi said his brother has an app that automatically records calls. Afolabi played the interaction for the external investigator. The investigator’s report noted the professor laughed and said he wanted nothing to do with this incident. The professor did not recommend that Afolabi go to campus police or leave the class to deal with the issue.
The next day Afolabi decided to file a complaint with campus police. When he went there, he said the police told him the other student had already filed a complaint against him saying he had been attacked and beaten by an unknown Black male.
The university launched an investigation led by the Office of Student Experience in March. On March 14, Danieli Arbex, the Academic Integrity and Student Conduct officer in that office, sought a meeting with Afolabi. In that first email before they even met, Arbex imposed restrictions, banning Afolabi from the campus outside class times. This meant he could not do group work outside class either.
Arbex and Afolabi met on March 26. Afolabi took a lawyer with him and recorded the conversation. At that meeting, Arbex said she did hear that the other student attacked Afolabi first, but “maybe we feel so afraid of someone else that you can do that to defend yourself.”
“Fear — especially if you’re referring to my demographic — is not a justification to attacking anyone aggressively,” Afolabi told her. “On paper I’m a very scary-looking guy. But in reality, I’m ambitious, I’m an A student and I’m trying to be a lawyer.”
In the recording Arbex is heard saying she was going to lift the restrictions against Afolabi and send him a letter that day.
But the next day, Arbex sent him an email that “in effect immediately,” he was banned from returning to the business school “for the remainder of this term.”
“I was absolutely devastated,” Afolabi would write in a complaint to the university later. “This was done to me in the middle of severely worsening pain.” It meant he could not see on-campus medical personnel: neither the doctor who was monitoring his back nor the chiropractor or massage therapist.
On March 28, he called Arbex and made another appointment with her to see if he could clear up any misunderstanding. He hung up the phone, got ready and left. He showed up at her office and waited. When Arbex saw him, she told him she had sent him an email after their conversation asking him not to come. He recorded this conversation, too.
“I am very uncomfortable that you are here right now, after I sent you the email,” she is heard saying in the recording. He tells her he didn’t check his email. “You should have checked,” she said.
Afolabi is heard saying, “You’re treating me like I’m a dangerous Black man,” “you’re prejudiced” and “You don’t have to treat me like I’m a threat to the campus.”
“If you’re being banned from campus it’s because you hit someone seven times on the face,” she says.
“I hit someone after they hit me,” he says.
It emerged later that Arbex called campus police when Afolabi was in the office. Afolabi left just before they arrived. In her complaint to the campus police, which Afolabi got from the external investigator, she labelled him “very aggressive” and said he “began calling her a racist.”
After this confrontation, the investigation was handed over to the external legal firm.
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Eight days later, the university allowed him to return to campus with conditions attached.
Arbex’s notes, which Afolabi obtained from the external investigator, draw a sympathetic portrait of the other student. They show her ensuring that he was sent to a therapist. She writes that his story was not clear and coherent, but adds in brackets “(he was nervous telling me).” Her notes say he was “very reluctant and tense to talk about the incident” so she began asking him about himself, how he was doing.
Arbex did not respond to the Star’s emails requesting comment.
On June 19, Afolabi dropped off a letter of complaint to Flannagan, associate vice-president, Student Experience and Arbex’s boss. Afolabi also dropped off a copy to Douglas Kneale, who was the president then (now provost and vice-president, Academic) of the university, outlining his experience with the investigation.
In it, he wrote he believed the other student’s “claim that he suspected I was going to assault him and his decision to pre-emptively assault me are also examples of behaviour that is heavily influenced by subconscious racial biases and fears. I believe this is the same fear that drives police officers to shoot unarmed Black victims before asking questions and before making reasonable evaluations of their situation.”
He wrote that during his confrontation with Arbex, there were other students within earshot and her portrayal of him as violent and dangerous “was damaging to my reputation and dignity.” It was also a violation of his privacy, he said.
In the days after the university sent Afolabi the letter clearing him of violating the code of conduct in July, Afolabi met with Flannagan, who wrote that decision, several times.
He wanted to ask, among other things: Why had Arbex increased sanctions against him instead of lifting them? Had his race played a role in the treatment he had received? He recorded those conversations.
Arbex had increased sanctions because she learnt he had trained in martial arts which made him more of a safety risk, Flannagan said. He denied that Afolabi’s race played any role in how the university treated him. “The race considerations that you are putting forward here were not part of anyone’s decision making. It was, people felt unsafe because of the level of violence that was employed.”
At one of their meetings Afolabi told him, “I was pretty much shouted at in front of everybody. Nobody cared about how I felt. Nobody cared about me being scared. Nobody was like ‘well look at my perspective’.”
Flannagan did not respond to the Star’s emails requesting comment.
Around this time, Afolabi went to the office of the president, seeking a response to his June complaint that he had sent a month prior. The receptionist asked him to request an appointment by email. He did. When he didn’t hear back from them two days later, he showed up at the office to follow up. The office was empty and he walked to a set of doors around the corner. The receptionist appeared just then and looked frightened, he said. “She spoke much faster than I’ve ever heard her speak.”
She did not ask his name but said “You’re not supposed to come back down this way. I think we’ve had a lot of discussions, you have to send it in writing.”
“I did send it in writing,” he said. Afolabi recorded this conversation.
A little later three campus police officers entered and asked him to accompany them. They were told “a Black male who won’t give his name or state his business and he’s kind of loitering” was instructed to leave the building after he insisted on speaking with the president. Afolabi received a copy of the call made to the police through a freedom of information request.
“It wasn’t unusual to see her afraid,” Afolabi told the Star. “Sometimes I walk into an office or a bank and I get the vibe they’re afraid. I usually walk away and come back another time. This time the stakes were so high, I didn’t.”
When the campus cops arrived, Afolabi played the recording of his conversation with the receptionist. He says they “appeared confused” and went to speak to the president.
An officer then told him Kneale said he had chosen not to respond to Afolabi’s complaint as he did not want a conflict of interest in his next role as provost. Afolabi was then banned from entering that building because the receptionist and secretary were “adamant they are in fear” of him. Afolabi recorded this conversation, too.
Kneale did not respond to the Star’s emails requesting comment.
Afolabi will finish school at the end of this semester in March. He is still banned from the building where the president works as well as the office of student experience where Flannagan and Arbex work. He is not allowed to contact Arbex. He has applied to the law school at the same university.
As far as the Star can ascertain, the other student has not been reprimanded at all.