President Tetlow Addresses Racial Bias
Today in an email to the campus community, President Tetlow shared the news that former director Sonya Duhe has resigned from Loyola and will not be the dean of Arizona State University as expected. In the wake of this news, she addressed racial bias and issues of systemic racism, identifying processes for reporting and investigation and promising to move forward. Her letter is below:
Dear Loyola community,
Arizona State University has announced that Dr. Sonya Duhé will no longer serve as their new dean of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. This decision was based upon complaints raised by current and former Loyola University New Orleans students of racial bias during her time here as our former Director of the School of Communication and Design. (Dr. Duhé has resigned from Loyola University.)
In social media posts and news interviews, students expressed anger and pain that centered on Dr. Duhé’s comments upon the expectations about appearance in broadcast journalism – dress and makeup, ideas of physical attractiveness, weight, and particularly, hair. These preferences by broadcasters are rooted in broader bias based on race, nationality, gender and sexuality. Their decisions as employers about what types of people and traits are deemed “professional” are the ultimate expressions of power, of who gets opportunity and who does not. In particular, women of color who are broadcast journalists feel the full brunt of the restrictive rules of gender about appearance and weight in addition to the seditious and disparate impact of race (like objections to natural hair.)
I hear with dismay the expressions of deep pain by students who felt that the implied limits of their opportunities were expressed as fact, without regret or acknowledgement of the deep injustice embedded in those limits. I apologize on behalf of the University that Loyola did not do a better job of fixing this situation that was, in fact, brought to our attention.
Of course, we have an obligation to advise and warn students about these biases and expectations in the profession. But we must do so while making clear how unfair those unwritten rules are in their application, how rooted they are in the oppression of people of color, particularly women. We need to talk through the kinds of choices our graduates will make between trying to achieve the power necessary to change the rules or deciding to end run the game altogether. Our responsibility is to make our students aware of implicit and systematic racism by acknowledging that it exists and helping them strategize about how they can help the profession, and society, make changes. As a Jesuit institution, we analyze injustices in order to dismantle them.
This is a challenging moment for us, a moment for real humility as an institution. As the whole country is learning right now, from challenge comes the chance to grow – indeed, the responsibility to grow. I wrote to you last week about the ways we’ve been working to do better, to fulfill our mission as a place of enormous diversity and opportunity, but also an institution of equity and inclusion. Let me talk about that specifically in the context of faculty bias.
Last fall, we instituted mandatory training of every single member of faculty and staff (along with far more intensive courses we are moving through in shifts.) We made clear that our commitment to equity and inclusion is utterly core to who we are as a Jesuit, Catholic institution. It is the highest expression of our mission and our devotion to our students. It is also the law.
Let me be clear, I know that training alone is not enough, but it’s a critical beginning. We are each capable of doing a great deal of harm out of ignorance and willful blindness. And for people striving always to do better, training helps enormously. Indeed, this is what we are demanding of our country right now – to take the trouble to learn our history, our realities and the implicit bias that distorts our perceptions of each other.
We have policies against discrimination by any member of our community and systems for the filing of formal complaints. Those are investigated and handled by trained faculty (when the complaint is against faculty), by human resources (in the case of staff) and by the student conduct process (as to fellow students.) Our bias response team helps those students who do not want to file a formal complaint, but still want to see progress.
None of these processes is perfect, because like every system of justice in the world, these are systems operated by human beings. We design a process that does its best to balance the interests at stake: to encourage people to come forward, to treat them well, to get the right answer and to be fair to the accused. It’s important to create a process that you would find just as legitimate no matter which side of it you happened to be on.
We do discipline employees with sanctions that include suspension and firing. We also recommend, and sometimes require, training, coaching, counseling and education designed to make faculty and staff more self-aware of their implicit biases and understand their impact as educators. We make hard decisions about the differences between stone-cold, unapologetic discrimination and the far more common sin of ignorance and blindness to hurting others.
Why not always fire people who step outside of our values? Because we are an educational institution and we believe in the power of teaching – that if people understand the context of their actions they will do better. And because we are a Jesuit, Catholic institution and we believe that people can change and grow. Without that belief, after all, there is no hope.
And we will continue to work to do better. Loyola’s Strategic Plan for Inclusive Excellence includes very specific action items, developed by students, faculty and staff working together, to improve our bias incident reporting system.
3. Path Forward
I spoke to you last week about the efforts we’ve made thus far and our detailed plans to do more. But right now is not a time for mere words and plans. We must roll up our sleeves and get the work done. We know that you’ll judge our intentions by what we actually achieve to make Loyola better.
For students, I will have a meeting at 3 p.m. on Thursday, June 11, to answer your questions, and most of all, to listen. For faculty and staff, we will have a meeting on Friday morning, details for both meetings to come.
We will do better.
Prayers and blessings,