Mimi Groves is the epicenter of a social media backlash over a three-second video taken three years ago. According her new lawyer, Groves was forced by the University of Tennessee (UT) to withdraw, and the person who originally posted the viral video was her friend.
CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Shanlon Wu, defends college students in university proceedings. He took on Groves as a client this past summer, long before The New York Times released their article on the incident the day after Christmas. The renewed focus centered on Galligan’s role in making the clip go viral.
In an interview with The Tennessee Star, Wu stated that previous reports didn’t reflect the full depth of Galligan and Groves’ relationship. The two were more than high school peers: they were friends. However, Wu shared that Groves doesn’t harbor any ill feelings toward Galligan.
“I think it says a lot about Mimi that she doesn’t have any ax to grind with him,” stated Wu. “She wants no part of the social media backlash that’s come out on him.”
Wu also explained the full context of the video.
“She was 15 years old and expressing her excitement at just getting her driver’s permit. She used a term she’d heard in popular music and culture and she should not have used it,” stated Wu. “She has apologized and is appalled at her behavior.”
Groves’ friends attested in that she apologized for the video “long before it went viral,” and has been remorseful of it ever since.
“She in no way is trying to excuse her conduct. She feels awful that she said that. [But] these sorts of actions need to be put into context,” explained Wu. “That’s the whole point of conduct hearings and investigations. Universities always say there’s an educational component to be gained from something, even mistakes like this. This wasn’t [taken] as an opportunity to grow from something – they panicked and forced her out.”
In his own social media videos, Galligan lip-syncs to rap songs frequently that contain the same racial slur from the video. Galligan has also posted YouTube videos using the same slur. In one clip dated March 2019, he described a drive-through worker serving their drinks as a “n****.”
Groves’ video went viral in the first few days of June. Within 24 hours, Groves was removed from the cheer team and no longer enrolled at UT. The university asserted that they conduct investigations on such matters.
The University of Tennessee has received several reports of racist remarks and actions on social media by past, present, and future members of our community. (Thread 1/4)
— UT Knoxville (@UTKnoxville) June 4, 2020
“Anytime the university receives a report, it is reviewed,” stated UT. “Any reports relating to current students will go through existing bias reporting processes. We review and address issues as they come up with the individuals involved.”
When The Star asked what policy guidelines were considered in Groves’ case, Wu said that UT didn’t consider any because they didn’t investigate.
“Our position is ‘none.’ I do a lot of college student defense,” explained Wu. “Normally what happens is, let’s say, a student gets into some trouble drinking, hazing, whatever it is – the university would notify them, and say that there’s an alleged violation, that they’re going to need to respond, investigate, and [have] a hearing possibly. Our primary concern and complaint is that it was a classic rush to judgment. There was an avalanche of social media pressure. [UT] didn’t investigate at all.”
In a statement to The Star, UT said that Groves withdrew voluntarily. Their statement contradicted initial reports that they’d given Groves an ultimatum, following backlash from alumni, students, and the public in general.
But Wu affirmed the initial reports – that the university coerced Groves into withdrawing.
“What really happened, in contrast to the university’s statement – which is very neutral and not too warm and fuzzy for her – [is that they] forced her out,” explained Wu. “They gave her an ultimatum: either you withdraw, or we rescind your offer. And, comments were made along the lines of ‘you won’t be very happy here [at our school].'”
Wu also pointed out that other students were treated more leniently for egregious conduct – namely, student athletes. The attorney cited Jeremy Banks, a UT football player, who was reinstated to the football team this past fall after confronting Knoxville police due to an illegal U-turn and an unpaid parking ticket.
During the encounter, Banks threatened the arresting officers. The UT football player warned the woman participating in the ride-along that Tennessee police are targets.
“You don’t want to be an intern because where I’m from, we shoot at cops,” stated Banks. “I’m from Memphis, Tennessee.”
A week after the incident, Banks issued an apology to UT and the police officers.
The program announced that they were “looking forward to giving [Banks] a second chance” in August – just two months after pushing Groves to withdraw.
Last year, UT faced several racially-related incidents. One group of students was investigated for posting a Snapchat video in blackface. At least one from that group chose to withdraw from the school, though it doesn’t appear that the other students left UT. Another student, an Alpha Chi Omega sorority member, uttered the same racial slur on a Snapchat video; she was expelled from her sorority, and it appears that she transferred to another university.
Wu stated that Groves isn’t seeking a lawsuit at this time. Instead, they are hopeful that UT will investigate the matter properly and offer a suitable remedy.
“[W]hat we’re hoping is that, now that some time has passed, cooler heads will prevail and the university will realize they made a hasty decision, and that they will come about and do the right thing here,” said Wu.
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Editor’s note: Updated to correct the timeframe attorney Shanlon Wu began representing Mimi Groves. The Tennessee Star regrets the error.