President Lovell’s son withdraws from university after posting racist, sexist remarks on social media

President+Lovell+at+his+presidential+address+last+year.+

Photo by Jordan Johnson

President Lovell at his presidential address last year.

Matt Lovell, son of Marquette University President Michael Lovell, has withdrawn from Marquette University after he posted multiple racist and sexist posts to different meme accounts on Instagram. 

The posts, which include derogatory statements about women and Black people, were originally published in 2017 and 2018, when Matt was a first-year at Marquette. Some posts have been deleted, while others are still public on one account. 

The accounts in which his posts were published to continue to be run by other Instagram users who are not affiliated with Marquette University. 

The memes posted by Matt include comments involving prominent Black leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and former President Barack Obama. Posts also make light of sexual assault. 

A meme is an image or video with a large piece of text over the imagery that seeks to be humorous. It is often posted to the internet and commonly spread by users. 

One account that Matt had made posts for has over 24,000 followers.

The Marquette Wire has decided not to include screenshots of the posts nor the names of the Instagram meme accounts. Rightly or wrongly, it is our opinion that doing so would serve no other purpose than to further spread offensive material. 

In a statement provided to the Marquette Wire, Matt said, “I deeply regret having posted offensive, racist and sexist images on social media. The images do not reflect who I am or the values my family lives by. I am very sorry for the pain that these images have caused to anyone who viewed them. I am also sad about the hurt my family has experienced from learning about these posts. I take full responsibility for my actions and have withdrawn from Marquette University.” 

In an interview with the Marquette Wire, Amy Lovell, Matt’s mother and President Lovell’s wife, said that during his first year at Marquette, Matt struggled with finding acceptance among peers and battled depression. His grades suffered and his mood worsened, which led to his withdrawal from Marquette that year, she said. Because of that, Matt found his way online, where he was drawn to and ultimately found acceptance on “toxic and destructive sites.”

“I’m horrified and disgusted that this is where he found acceptance during his darkest time,” Amy said. “But when people are in dark times, they aren’t operating from the lens of who they really are.” 

Amy is a mental health advocate and the board president of the Milwaukee non-profit REDgen, which advocates for youths’ mental health and well-being. She said that times of transition are especially hard for those who suffer from mental health issues. 

Due to his withdrawal, Matt was on academic probation and started to take one class at a time sporadically throughout the next few semesters at Marquette to work on his grade point average before he fully returned. 

“For him, for our family, this is particularly devastating because he finally got to the point where he could re-enter college full time and was planning to do so this fall,” Amy said. 

“Mike and my primary role is to support and love our son because this is not the total of who he is. This is just a serious mistake at a dark point in his life that he now lives with,” she said. 

Amy said she wants to make clear that Matt’s mental health issues are in no way an excuse for the posts. 

“There is no excuse for elevating hate in any way and (for) images that are destructive,” Amy said. “This is not who our son is. This is not who we raised him to be. This is not our family’s value.”  

She said the Lovell family stands with Matt and apologizes for the hurt and pain his images may have caused. 

The decision to withdraw from Marquette was Matt’s own decision, both President Lovell and Amy said. 

The Lovells said Matt no longer has any affiliation or engagement with the accounts but could not confirm when Matt last interacted with the accounts or posted to them. They could also not confirm how many accounts Matt posted to. 

Other than the statement he provided to the Marquette Wire, Matt declined further comment due to his well-being at this time.

Two anonymous sources who are a part of the Marquette community recently came to the Marquette Wire after the university made the decision to rescind the admission offer of a women’s lacrosse commit who posted an offensive message about the death of George Floyd.

The sources said that they saw how active Marquette could be on an issue of racist remarks made by students and figured now was the time to bring forward the accounts Matt was apart of.

Both sources said they had seen the Instagram posts and accounts. One source recalled being shown a post directly by Matt in 2018. 

The request to remain anonymous was made and granted due to the sensitive nature of this article. 

During his first year, Matt had an internship in the Office of Public Affairs. There, one of the sources said they were shown a meme Matt had on an account. Rather than looking directly at the meme, the source said they decided to instead look at the account Matt was on to later look at the account’s content as a whole. Once the source later found the account, they said it was “cringey and odd.” 

“You see meme accounts online, but for there to be a real person behind it is just weird,” the source said. “For someone like Matt to be running one was also very weird, which is why I wanted to look it up after to see what kind of content he was making.” 

The source said most of the account looked like an attempt to be edgy, appearing to try to elicit responses from its followers.

“By making these jokes that are just gross and awful … (it’s) just trying to get that edgy reaction from people,” the source said. 

The second anonymous source said they were shocked when they saw the account. 

“A lot of the posts were just absurd and beyond offensive. It was just a little crazy to me that the president of the university’s son would be one, thinking of these things, or two, comfortable posting them,” the source said. 

Though most of the posts were dated in 2017 and 2018, the source said the offensive posts never left their mind. 

“I never really stopped wondering after I saw those posts … what kind of things they were, what Dr. Lovell was practicing at home versus preaching in public,” the source said. “I guess in the back of my head, I was always wondering if Matt could post these things, is this the sort of mindset that is at the top of my university?” 

The source who saw the posts first hand by Matt said they did not bring this forward earlier for fear of potential consequences they could face reporting an issue on the university’s president’s son. 

“Being the son of the president (of Marquette) is pretty powerful. I just didn’t know what repercussion I would face, and if it would even be worth it,” the source said. “Now that Marquette has revoked the acceptance of the student who posted if not similar and in the same genre of comments and jokes, it seems like Marquette is responsive.”

As a person of deep faith, President Lovell said that he has spent a tremendous amount of time in prayer about Matt’s participation on these accounts. 

“I trust in God’s plan for us, but I’ve been struggling to understand what good will come of all of this,” Lovell said in an interview with the Marquette Wire. 

During a morning prayer, Lovell said he came to the realization that the individuals who came forward with Matt’s posts did exactly what he asked the campus community to do at the Racial Justice Town Hall in June. 

“I asked when we see racism and inequities, we need to call them out,” Lovell said. “We need to hold each other accountable – including my son Matt. As personal and difficult as this situation is to our family, maybe it can serve as a catalyst for positive change.” 

Lovell said that he and his wife were horrified and shocked when they saw the posts, unaware of Matt’s involvement with the accounts prior to an interview with the Marquette Wire. 

“(The posts) make me sad on many levels,” Lovell said. “First, I’m sad for Matt because I understand the gravity of this mistake that he made and how this will impact his life. I am also sad for all of those who viewed these images. I know how painful they are to people.” 

Lovell said it is important for him to understand what students’ experiences are on campus. 

“I always say I can’t solve problems I don’t know about and for me to understand some of the issues that we face, I need to make sure I am a meeting with a good cross section of individuals from campus and particularly those who may not be experiencing it in a way that would make us proud,” Lovell said. 

Lovell said it is unfortunate that some individuals may have felt like they couldn’t come forward and present the issue involving his son when it first occurred. He said he would have hoped that Matt would have been treated just like any other student through a bias incident report process. The Lovells said that Matt would have been treated the same as any other student through this process, as he was treated just like any other student going through academic probation during his first year at Marquette.

A bias incident report is any discriminatory or hurtful act that appears to be motivated by race, ethnicity, religion, age, national origin, sex, ability, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, veterans status and socioeconomic status or language. Students can report a bias incident report through an online report form, by phone, or by scheduling an appointment with William Welburn, vice president for inclusive excellence. 

A bias incident report may be handled through grievance procedures like the student conduct process or through educational programs to enhance awareness and enable prevention of such acts. 

“I think that is a sign of the climate we have on campus and it needs to change,” Lovell said in regards to students speaking out about issues they see. “I hope that if there is good that comes through any of this, we are going to see movement in that area. I don’t want anyone who either experiences injustices or sees injustices that they aren’t going to be heard if they come forward.” 

As for social media posts, Lovell said that many other students have come forward reporting other cases of racist remarks online made by others affiliated with the Marquette community. 

“It’s really hard for the university to monitor everyone’s social media platforms. We have trouble just as parents with our own children, let alone the university,” Lovell said. “But I do believe that people need to be better educated about the impact of their posts on others.”

University spokesperson Lynn Griffith said the university expects all students to follow the university’s Standards of Conduct in the Student Code of Conduct.

“When students choose admission to Marquette University, they accept the rights and responsibilities of membership in the university’s academic and social community,” Griffith said in an email. 

Those who violate the code of conduct are subject to a conduct review process, Griffith said. 

In the Student Code of Conduct, there is no policy or clause on social media. There is only the mention of social community, with no definition of what that entails. 

In a question and answer portion of the Standards of Conduct page, it states, “Every student at Marquette is responsible for knowing the Standards of Conduct: ignorance is not an excuse.” 

Coordinated by the Office of Student Development, the Student Conduct process deals with violations of the Standards of Conduct, which include action such as arson, possession of firearms, violating the university’s alcohol and drug policy, issuing bomb threats and engaging in behavior that can harm others. Violations of the Standards of Conduct are reported by the Marquette University Police Department, the Office of Residence Life, students, faculty and other members of the Marquette and Milwaukee communities. 

Students can submit an incident report through an online portal that will go to the Division of Student Affairs. Strongly encouraged but not required, students can choose to provide their identity so the Division of Student affairs can reach back out to them for further details. Students can also submit reports to MUPD, Student Development or Residence Life.

“Our primary goal is to help form students of character and integrity, able to understand the consequence of their behavior for themselves and others,” the Standards of Conduct page said. 

When an incident report is received in the Office of Student Development, it is reviewed for any violation. If it passes as a violation, the student involved is then notified via letter of the charge with a date, time and setting for a Student Conduct hearing to “clarify the situation.” 

A bias incident report is different than an incident report as it can be filed anonymously. Griffith said that students who choose to file anonymous reports should note that the university may be limited in its ability to respond.

In a community like Marquette where others are valued, Lovell said he does not want to have a climate where there is toxicity that is already seen in many aspects of society and on social media. One way to do better is to have a process in place, he said. 

“What we really want is if people do things that are offensive, to make them aware of that and realize that they were wrong and learn from it and grow,” Lovell said. “That’s ultimately what we would want to have happen.” 

Lovell said that the university would start to look into policies surrounding social media behavior, yet consequences would be on a case-by-case basis as each situation has its own merit. 

“The role of our institution is to help transform people when they are here and help them to grow and better people and so we know whatever we do, we can do that. We need to protect people in our community to make them feel safe,” Lovell said. 

Above all else, both of the sources said they never expected this to come from Matt as he was always polite and kind in person. Yet, they said what Matt posted shows a much different picture. 

“I don’t think he intended any of this with malice,” the source who saw the posts from Matt said. “But I think it speaks to a lot of what I think and feel a lot of Marquette students were and are …  just a lot of privilege and not understanding and coming from a place that maybe doesn’t have a lot of people of color, or doesn’t have a lot of conversations about this kind of stuff.”

To make these jokes is easier when there is no one to call out the behavior, the source said. 

An earlier version of this story stated Matt Lovell had created memes that involved comments about prominent Black leaders. Matt Lovell posted those memes, he did not create them. The Marquette Wire has updated the article to reflect this change. 

This story was written by Natallie St. Onge. She can be reached at natallie.stonge@marquette.edu