'We're good people, we just made a mistake'

ASHLAND — 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 earlier this week, 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.

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 promptedthem 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.

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

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

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