A report finds a pattern of “culture/climate issues with racial undertones” at Manchester Community College

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An investigation into allegations of discrimination against Black and female employees at Manchester Community College has uncovered a “history of culture/climate issues with racial undertones.”

The six-month probe into the racial climate at the community college by Nicholas D’Agostino, Director of Equal Employment Opportunity for the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, found that for decades the school has “been negatively impacted,’' noting that at one point, in 2012, there were 20 new hires and all were white.

“There is sufficient evidence to suggest that over the past 20 years, MCC has experienced challenges related to diversity and specifically race and gender,” D’Agostino, wrote in the report issued earlier this month.

D’Agostino’s report recommends that the college conduct an independent survey of its racial climate and that outside consultants be hired to “specifically address racial climate concerns.”

The investigation into the racial climate at the community college following a complaint by Lucy Hurston, a longtime sociology professor at Manchester Community College.

Hurston, the niece of famed Harlem Rennaisance writer Zora Neale Hurston, said Black faculty at the community college were subject to an almost daily torrent of microaggressions and hostility. Black female employees who were promoted had their credentials questioned. And almost all of the faculty members hired in recent years were white, despite a student body that is 40% Black and Latinx.

“The bullying was very gradual,’' Hurston said. “But over the last few years, it got out of control.”

Jane McBride Gates, interim president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, said the incidents detailed in D’Agostino’s report are unacceptable.

“The findings show significant racial and gender issues on campus,’' Gates said. “This is unacceptable, and it must end. The investigation contained specific recommendations to improve MCC’s climate and culture, and CSCU is committed to ensuring that those recommendations are implemented.”

At colleges across the country, from elite institutions to large, publicly-funded schools, faculty and students are coming forward with their experiences of overt racism and hostility on campus.

At Manchester Community College, a state-funded two-year school with an demographically diverse student body, racial tensions have been roiling for years, Hurston said.

D’Agostino based his findings on interviews with witnesses, written statements and other evidence. In reviewing the school’s hiring, he found that of the approximately 20 employees hired in 2012, all were white.

“The culture/climate issues with racial undertones were also present regarding diversity in hiring,’' D’Agostino wrote. “So much so, that [Jonathan M.] Daube, former president at MCC, felt the need to oversee the search processes because he said this was the only way the college would diversify. Of the eleven witnesses, seven spoke about Dr. Daube’s efforts to increase diversity in hiring at MCC, and his efforts were met with calls for a vote of no confidence.”

When women of color were appointed to permanent or interim positions at the school, their credentials were questioned, something that did not occur when white employees were shifted into advanced positions, D’Agostino wrote. “In this respect, the optics are that Black female colleagues were treated differently than white employees,’' his report states.

The report cites two separate instances in which the credentials of two Black female professors were publicly questioned. One of those episodes was contained in an ‘‘all points’' email sent by a now-former professor member to every active member of the faculty and staff.

The email was “unprecedented” and “negatively contributed to the culture and climate at MCC,’' D’Agostino wrote.

“The majority of the witnesses indicated that [the] email was meant to publicly shame [the Black professor] and some witnesses felt that the intentions [of the professor who sent the email] were racially motivated as he intentionally singled her out,’' D’Agostino wrote. “Further, when a white female colleague was moved into a faculty position, or when a white male colleague was moved into an interim promotional position, their credentials were not publicly questioned, and certainly not via all points.”

The use of the school’s email distribution list to criticize a Black faculty member constitutes a violation of the state university system’s information technology policy, which states “using electronic communications to harass or intimidate others or to interfere with the ability of others to conduct .[college] business is prohibited.”

D’Agostino recommends that the professor who sent the email be held “in violation,’' although no punishment was listed. The professor retired earlier this month and Hurston questioned the timing of the report’s release.

According to investigation procedures, the state university system must issue a final report within 90 days of receiving the complaint — “this investigation took 324 days to issue a final report,’' she said. “Despite repeated requests on the status of the investigation and the final report, no one explained why the process took so long.”

D’Agostino’s report recommends that the college conduct an independent survey of its racial climate.

Hurston, who had taught at the school since 1997, recently left her job. The racism she witnessed and experienced was taking a toll on her physical and emotional health, she said. Other Black professors have also left.

“Lucy is maintaining that even though she retired, it was not by choice,’' said Hurston’s attorney, Irene Bassock. “She did not feel safe in the environment.’'

In addition to the filing the complaint with state college and university system, Hurston also filed a charge of race discrimination against MCC with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. Both agencies are currently investigating.

In many ways, Hurston is a community college success story: 18 years after graduating from high school—and after raising two children—she enrolled at MCC. She graduated with honors and eventually earned a master’s degree in sociology from The Ohio State University before returning to MCC to teach courses on race and ethnicity and the sociology of gender, among other topics.

“When I came back, I was all full of pride and hope, I wanted to help people who were in a similar situation,’' ' Hurston said. “I understand what it’s like to be sitting on the other side of the room, as a non-traditional, Black, female student.’'

Hurston noted that she has devoted her life to studying the corrosive effects of discrimination and earlier this year, she provided MCC with a detailed plan to address racism on campus. Her overture was rebuffed, she said.

“I teach it, I live and I’ve experienced the negative results of it,’' Hurston said.

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