Racial Name-Calling at Diversity Retreat Leads To Firing

WILKES-BARRE, Pa.

The diversity training consultant called one Wilkes University student of Indian descent a “terrorist.” He also had student athletes at a diversity retreat call another student “Chink” — as a means of making the derogatory words lose their power.

They didn’t lose their power, but his boss lost her job.

“An event intended to bring students together and improve relationships ended up bringing them further apart,” says university spokesman Jack Chielli.

The diversity consultant, who acknowledges making mistakes during the retreat exercises, says the incident was just the excuse university officials needed to get rid of the newly hired multicultural affairs coordinator, Andita Parker-Lloyd. He contends that she was forced out after she had filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Wilkes-Barre following a February traffic-stop arrest.

“Wilkes has always been my second home. I was a student here,” Parker-Lloyd says. “I feel we were making great inroads around diversity and getting all types of students involved in campuswide diversity efforts.”

The incident that precipitated Parker-Lloyd’s dismissal began the weekend of Sept. 8, during a two-day retreat for a dozen student leaders led by diversity trainer Ron Feldhun. Feldhun says he sought to address perceptions and desensitize the students to hurtful words by using them repeatedly. 

“Teaching people not to react and give power to words is part of the course,” he says.

But some students complained to university officials about the name calling, which also included being called “third world.” The Monday following the retreat, Parker-Lloyd was called into a meeting with two deans. That Thursday she was suspended with pay. She was gone the next day.

Feldhun, who was hired by the previous multicultural affairs coordinator, takes responsibility for making errors in his exercises at the retreat and says the blame is misplaced.

“My perception is that there was a conspiracy to get rid of a strong Black woman,” he says. “They fired her because she embarrassed the school when she stood up to that White police officer.”

Parker-Lloyd was arrested for disorderly conduct on Feb. 16 after she tried to intervene on behalf of minority Wilkes students who had been pulled over for an alleged signal violation. Parker-Lloyd and the students were in separate cars, all heading to a restaurant to meet the guest speaker of the Black History Month program that they had just attended. Parker-Lloyd, who had pulled over along with the students, says she became concerned when two more police cars arrived. Although she had been instructed to stay in her car, she left her vehicle to check on the students, at which point the police officers placed her under arrest.

When asked if Parker-Lloyd’s firing had any connection to the lawsuit against the city. Chielli said,  “We did not link the two together. People have made a direct link about her dismissal. The university has maintained that one has nothing to do with the other. Her lawsuit with the city was a private matter.

“Anytime you take an individual like Andita, it is a difficult decision for the leadership of the university,” he said. “We take all of these decisions seriously.”

Parker-Lloyd’s attorney, Barry H. Dyller, says they are moving ahead with the lawsuit against the city. “She is an ideal client. Very frequently, what happens when ‘Driving While Black’ is that police will try to get the person stopped to lose their cool; all of those things cloud the issue,” he says. “Andita, on the other hand, is a university leader, very controlled, and we have students who they also treated poorly.

“We are looking into a lawsuit against the university as well,” he says.

Meanwhile, Feldhun says he regrets having the two students assist in the name calling of a Korean wrestler.

“I asked, ‘Do you have an objection if we use the word “chink,” since it has such an impact on you?’ He said ‘I would love that because it has impacted me,’” Feldhun says. “I didn’t call him a chink. I had two football players who were Black do it. They had both taken the course and they did most of the name calling in the course. I have taken that out of the course.”

Mauricio Velásquez, president of the Diversity Training Group, calls confrontational “in your face” tactics obsolete in diversity training.

“Putting people in the middle and making them part of the exercise without establishing ground rules is very irresponsible,” he says.

-Dianne Hayes

 

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