SOU students apologize for graffiti

Southern Oregon University students Blake Adkins and Kevin Novotny were bored and roaming the dorm hallways looking for a ping-pong table one night last month when they made what they both describe as the worst decision of their lives.

On the white walls of two dorm hallways — including one with a gender-neutral floor that houses several gay students — they wrote what police called anti-gay graffiti.

"We already had markers in our hands and we started to draw stuff on the walls, and it escalated," Adkins said.

In an interview Tuesday evening, Adkins, 19, and Novotny, 20, admitted to the crime and apologized for it.

"Kevin and I would like to say that we're deeply and sincerely sorry to all that were affected," Adkins said.

"Absolutely," said Novotny, who sat beside Adkins in an empty SOU math classroom.

"We're good people, we just made a mistake," Adkins added. "It was a reckless act. It wasn't supposed to be a hate crime or anything like that. It was a poor choice of words."

Adkins and Novotny said they plan to apologize in person Friday to residents of the dorms hit by the graffiti and to also write each resident a letter of apology. In the coming days, they plan to begin volunteering at the university's Queer Resource Center.

"We are voluntarily doing things in a positive manner to show that we are good citizens and we do care and love everyone," Adkins said.

They said they didn't know Diamond Hall had a gender-neutral floor when they scrawled graffiti there, and that they didn't intend to intimidate anyone.

"By no means are we homophobic," Adkins said. "Unfortunately we managed to hit some halls that had special floors and that was an unintentional and unknowing mistake."

Adkins and Novotny were arrested on April 30 and charged with second-degree criminal mischief. An intimidation charge against Adkins was dropped. They pleaded guilty on May 19 to the violation and received a $400 fine, they said. They could have received up to a $720 fine, Adkins said.

As of Wednesday evening, they were still waiting to hear whether they will face discipline from the university.

If the students, who both live in dorms on campus, are found to have violated the university's code of conduct, they could "receive anything from a warning to permanent dismissal," said Jonathan Eldridge, SOU's vice president for student affairs.

A university board consisting of a student, professor and staff member held a hearing May 20 on the matter.

Both Novotny, a theater major, and Adkins, who may major in elementary education, said they hope to attend SOU next academic year.

The graffiti, discovered early in the morning on April 8, disturbed residents of the dorms and prompted them to hold campus meetings and speak out about gay rights.

"Safety was threatened and everybody felt really affected," said Amber Templeton, 21, who lives on the gender-neutral floor.

Templeton questioned how Adkins and Novotny couldn't have known about the gender-neutral floor when they wrote the graffiti, but she said it didn't matter because the graffiti shouldn't have appeared on any floor.

"There's a floor where there are some gay students, but there could be gay students on every floor," she said. "It doesn't matter that they did it on the gender-inclusive floor. The fact that they did it on any floor was wrong."

The graffiti consisted of slang words with sexual and homophobic connotations written next to some of the names of the residents.

Adkins and Novotny said they didn't know any of the people they wrote about, and that they got the names from signs on the dorm doors.

"We feel especially bad about hurting them," Adkins said. "There were times that I just wanted to go up to everyone hurt and give them all a hug."

"We have learned and are learning from our mistake," he added. "We've had over a month and a half where we've just sat in grief and sorrow. This is just not the type of people we are."

Adkins, a freshman from Klamath Falls, and Novotny, a sophomore from Hawaii, are former Boy Scouts, they said. Adkins was an Eagle Scout. Novotny started a self-defense club at SOU. They generally get A's and B's in their classes, they said.

Neither Adkins nor Novotny had a criminal record before being arrested for the graffiti, they said. Court records show they have committed no other crimes in Oregon.

"We've never even gotten a speeding ticket," Adkins said.

They met playing pool in their dorm, Cedar Hall, which is what they had been doing right before they decided to seek out a ping-pong table around midnight on April 7.

They hadn't been drinking or using drugs, they said.

"We don't party. We don't drink. We don't do drugs," Adkins said. "It's not like we wanted to be bad kids or do something bad. We just weren't thinking."

They said they wrote graffiti in Diamond and Hawthorne halls because they were the dorms they could get into. The doors to the other halls in the Cascade Complex were locked, they said.

In late April, after watching surveillance video from the complex's dining room, police questioned Adkins and Novotny about the incident, they said.

"Feeling guilty, we didn't want to deny it," Adkins said. "We just straight up told the cops that, 'Yes, we did it.'"

Adkins and Novotny have learned from the incident, they said.

"It's been a growing up process for the both of us," Adkins said. "We're maturing in what we say and do.

"We're not only sorry for doing it, we're trying to forgive ourselves and that's very hard to do."

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or

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