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Racial Name -Calling at Diversity Retreat Leads to Firing

Racial Name-Calling at Diversity Retreat Leads to Firing
Ousted coordinator says dismissal was retribution for “Driving While Black” lawsuit.
By Dianne Hayes

The diversity-training consultant called one Wilkes University student of Indian descent a “terrorist.”

He also had student-athletes at a diversity retreat call an Asian student “Chink” — as a means of making the derogatory words lose their power.

They didn’t lose their power, but his boss — the multicultural affairs coordinator at the university — lost her job.

“An event intended to bring students together and improve relationships, ended up pushing 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 coordinator, Andita Parker-Lloyd. He contends that she was forced out after filing a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Wilkes-Barre following a February traffic-stop arrest.

Parker-Lloyd also says she believes the lawsuit is the real reason for her termination. She says she had always received good performance appraisals during her tenure.

“Wilkes has always been my second home. I was a student here,” she says. “I feel we were making great inroads around diversity and getting all types of students involved in campus-wide 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 people 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, two deans informed Parker-Lloyd that they would be looking into the students’ allegations. She says she initially didn’t have the impression that her job was on the line. But, that Thursday she was suspended with pay. She was fired the next day.

Feldhun, who was hired by the former multicultural affairs director and not Parker-Lloyd, has taken responsibility for making errors in his exercises at the retreat and says the blame is misplaced. He says the police incident and the subsequent lawsuit played heavily in the university decision to fire Parker-Lloyd.

“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. She 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 who were Black, Indian, Hispanic and White, at which point the police officers placed her under arrest.

The charge was later dropped, but students reported that the entire incident was rife with racial intimidation. A Hispanic student was allegedly told by the officer, “you don’t look like a student.”

Mark Congdon Jr., a junior communications studies major who attended the retreat and witnessed the traffic stop, says Parker-Lloyd advocated for the students involved in the traffic stop while university officials remained silent.

“She’s been a positive influence in my life. They’re not telling the details about why she was fired,” he says. “I feel the school didn’t really support her or any of the students involved after it happened. They didn’t hold a meeting to see how this was affecting her or us. I was shocked, sad and depressed about it. You always hear about this, but now I know it’s real. I think even if the retreat hadn’t happened, the school would have found a way to fire her.”

Parker-Lloyd says school officials asked her to write a letter of apology to the police. Instead, she retained a lawyer.

The Wilkes faculty passed a resolution condemning the police’s treatment of Parker-Lloyd, but it has not gotten involved in the flap over her firing. Dr. Jane Elmes-Crahall, a professor of communications studies who spearheaded the resolution, says faculty members want to know more about what happened.

According to Chielli, Parker-Lloyd’s firing had nothing to do with the lawsuit. “Her lawsuit with the city was a private matter,” he says. “Anytime you take an individual like Andita, it is a difficult decision for the leadership of the university. We take all of these decisions seriously.”

Parker-Lloyd’s attorney, Barry H. Dyller, says they are also contemplating a lawsuit against the university. “Very frequently, what happens when ‘Driving While Black’ is the police will try to get the person stopped to lose their cool. Andita, on the other hand, is a university leader, very controlled, and we have students who they also
treated poorly.”

Meanwhile, Feldhun says he regrets having two Black students, both athletes, call a Korean wrestler a “chink,” after the wrestler admitted being sensitive to the word since childhood.

“I have taken that out of the course,” Feldhun says.

Mauricio Velásquez, president of Diversity Training Group, located in Reston, Va., 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.

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