UTPD continues investigation of September vandalism of Malcolm X Lounge

Zainab Calcuttawala

The University of Texas Police Department is investigating the vandalism of the Malcolm X Lounge, which occurred during the early morning hours of Sept. 23, according to an email from lounge director David McDonald.

The incident was first reported by Johnesha Daniels, a mathematics and African-American studies senior who regularly uses the lounge as a study space. Daniels said she left the lounge for the Perry-Castañeda Library around 1:30 a.m. to continue studying. When she said she returned to the space at 5 a.m., she said she saw the left side of the lounge trashed with cookies and craft beads. After noticing a burning smell coming from somewhere in the room, she said she noticed a hot glue gun that was still plugged into an outlet and a heated clothes iron in the microwave.

“I was getting ready to leave but then I heard the microwave beep … as a reminder that someone cooked something in it,” Daniels said. “There was an iron wrapped with the cord around it, and it had been microwaved not too long ago because it was still warm. As soon as I opened the microwave, the whole burning smell came out, and it smelled so bad that you could smell it out in the hall.”

Plastic beads had been melted to the bottom of the iron, Daniels said.

Daniels said she called UTPD to investigate right after discovering the damage. Because it is an open case, UTPD spokesperson Cindy Posey declined to comment.

UTPD classified the act as an act of criminal mischief on the report. The report said the investigating officer, Cory Morrison, spoke to a member of the custodial staff and a front desk attendant at Jester West, but neither of them said they saw or heard anything.

There were no criminal charges filed at the time of the incident and there are no current suspects or leads in the investigation, according to the report.

Daniels’ account could point to an intentional vandalism of the lounge, McDonald said in the email to volunteers who assist with the space and to UT’s black student leadership.

“From the account of Johnesha Daniels, we have reason to believe that the Malcolm X Lounge was intentionally vandalized and the person attempted to start a fire by microwaving the iron,” McDonald said.

The nature of the space makes it likely that the incident was racially-driven, according to Daniels.

“If a student had something against Jester or they wanted to commit a general act of vandalism, there were so many more spaces where they could have acted out that sort of act,” Daniels said. “I’m not saying that that is something they should have done or anything, but this was a very racially charged space — Malcolm X’s face is on the door, Martin Luther King Jr.’s head is in there, W.E.B. Du Bois is hanging on the wall. I feel they make an active and conscious decision to enter into a racially charged space to make a statement.”

McDonald said that the lounge’s administration and the Warfield Center for African and African Diaspora Studies is working with UTPD to gather more details about the incident.