State College's chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People released a "call to action" statement Thursday night, alleging the physical assault that occurred in the Willard Building was "race-related aggression."
Penn State University Police and Public Safety arrested Robert Wahl, an adjunct lecturer of sociology and criminology, after an employee in Penn State's African Studies Program reported being harassed in the building Sept. 1, according to the university crime log.
"In our view, Penn State University is trying to cover up yet another instance of systemic racism," the State College NAACP said in its statement. "Despite the physical and emotional injuries sustained by the victim, Wahl has only been charged with simple/other assault, according to the university crime log — tantamount to a slap on the wrist."
Wahl was charged with harassment, and his offenses include simple/other assault but not aggravated disorderly conduct, according to the university crime log.
At approximately 5:25 p.m. Sept. 1, police responded to the report of physical assault at the Willard Building, according to Penn State spokesperson Lisa Powers.
Bystanders at the scene of the incident allegedly heard a man repeatedly yell “help me” from the connecting corridor on the second floor between the Willard Building and the new Bellisario Media Center. According to witnesses, a man was lying on the floor, and Wahl walked away from him.
As people rushed toward the man on the floor, others said they saw Wahl walk toward the stairwell. Bystanders confirmed Wahl said he pushed the other man out of the bathroom for not wearing a mask.
According to Powers, the victim was transported to Mount Nittany Medical Center for evaluation.
"It is beyond comprehension that a mere civil charge has been given for this offensive act — a charge that will in no way hamper Robert Wahl’s career or his future," the State College NAACP said in its statement. "There is little doubt in our minds that had the roles been reversed — had the perpetrator been Black and the victim white — the charges would have been far more severe."
In an email sent to faculty members in the African Studies Program, Interim Director of African Studies Sinfree Makoni alleged the victim was "racially attacked" by Wahl for "not wearing his mask properly."
"No charges related to racial motivation have been filed, and there is no additional information to share on this case," Powers said.
The State College NAACP alleged the victim was also "verbally abused" by Wahl and said it is "outraged" at the "callous handling" of the matter by Penn State's administration and University Police.
"Once again, the all-too-familiar pattern of sweeping race-related aggression under the rug, of minimizing the importance of race and racism on the Penn State campus, is being repeated," the State College NAACP said in its statement. "The responses of the University Police and the administration are both unacceptable."
Wahl has been placed on administrative leave while the investigation is still ongoing, according to Powers.
The State College NAACP, however, alleged Wahl's leave is paid, which was confirmed by Penn State spokesperson Wyatt Dubois Monday.
The incident "clearly" demonstrates a "far higher regard" for the perpetrator instead of the victim, the State College NAACP alleged, and it called on Penn State to review the case "thoroughly" and terminate Wahl's position.
"We hold Penn State and university police accountable for the casual handling of this matter," the State College NAACP said in its statement. "We demand that Wahl receive the appropriate charges for his actions, that he be removed from paid administrative leave immediately and terminated."
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