Office of African American Employee Vandalized at Department of Education

The office of an African American employee at the Department of Education was vandalized in an attack that many fear was racially motivated. The office reportedly belonged to a Black woman who was recently appointed a “diversity change agent.”

The incident occurred at the department’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education when the employee was out of the office, employees told NBC News, who first reported on the vandalism. The employee reported the incident on August 20 after being out of the office for several days.

“We can confirm there was an incident involving an employee’s personal belongings on the third floor,” Education Department spokesperson Angela Morabito said in a statement to The North Star. “Secretary DeVos took immediate action, including referring the case to Federal Protective Services for a comprehensive investigation, increasing building security, and most importantly, ensuring the impacted employee was supported.”

Morabito did not confirm if the vandalism occurred in the office belonging to an African American woman who was recently named a diversity change agent. However, she did confirm Secretary DeVos’ commitment to the program. “The diversity change agent program at the Department trains employees involved in the program to foster a more inclusive workplace, and Secretary DeVos has strengthened it since taking office to ensure a strong culture of inclusion at the Department,” Morabito wrote.

Education Department employees and a congressional aide told NBC News that African art figurines were beheaded, had their limbs removed, and were left in the office. Additionally, a poster depicting school desegregation was damaged. The poster was believed to be of Ruby Bridges, a civil rights activist who became the first African American child to desegregate an all-white elementary school in New Orleans.

The employee’s colleagues are reportedly hoping to place copies of the poster in their own offices to show solidarity.

In an email to staff members on August 22, Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Frank Brogan confirmed that the incident was under investigation. “There was an unfortunate incident on our floor this week. An office was vandalized. This cowardly action is intolerable and unacceptable,” Brogan wrote in an internal email acquired by NBC News.

The email, which was only sent to staff members of the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, did not reveal any details of the act of vandalism. Some employees were reportedly frustrated with the department’s response to the incident including the email’s lack of recipients and detail.

An unidentified employee told NBC News staffers were disturbed by the incident, which they suspected to be racially motivated. “I don’t know if it was targeted, but it sure does feel like it,” the employee claimed. “To pick one room and to go in and destroy it like that.”

Staff members and the congressional aide, who were not identified, said they do not believe the incident was the result of a personal feud or conflict. They noted that the employee appeared to have a good relationship with her coworkers.

“I could not believe that something like this happened,” an Education Department staff member told NBC News. “This should be a place that’s safe for all of us.”

Hate crimes in the United States have been steadily rising over the last few years. Data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) shows that there were 8,126 single-bias offenses reported in 2017, up from 7,227 offenses reported in the previous year. Of those reported, 59.5 percent of single-bias offenses in 2017 were motivated by race, ethnicity, and ancestry bias.

Of the 4,832 single-bias hate crime offenses motivated by race, ethnicity, and ancestry in 2017, 48.8 percent were motivated by anti-Black or African American bias, the FBI reported. This was a slight drop from 2016 percentage-wise, when 50.2 percent of the 4,229 race, ethnicity, and ancestry-motivated crimes were anti-Black. But 2017 still showed an overall increase in anti-Black single-bias hate crimes reported.

Meanwhile, white supremacist activity is also on the rise, particularly on college campuses. A report by the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Center on Extremism in June found that white supremacist propaganda on US college campuses grew 7 percent from the 2017-2018 academic year to the 2018-2019 academic year. More than 300 cases were documented by the ADL in 2018-2019.

The organization said that there was a particular spike in activity during the 2019 spring semester, with 161 incidents recorded in 122 different campuses across 33 states and the District of Columbia.

“It's horrible to see an African-American woman’s office at the Department of Education was vandalized in a potentially racially motivated attack. Hateful actions like these not only harm the individual targeted, but also intimidate a victim’s entire community in hopes of leaving them feeling isolated, vulnerable, and unprotected. We welcome the Department of Education’s move to refer the case to Federal Protective Services – and we hope that the investigation is comprehensive and transparent. Anything short of that would be unacceptable," an ADL spokesperson told The North Star.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.