This is a story about knowing when it’s absolutely OK to say nothing, or at the very least to realize your good experience doesn’t negate someone else’s bad. That lesson apparently isn’t in the curriculum at the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, where four former students for some reason found it necessary to write an open letter to let the public know about the lack of racism they’d experienced as a counterbalance to a recent lawsuit filed by a Black former student who said she’d experienced racial discrimination at the school.
The four, Angelica Leigh, Ayana Younge, Chaitali Kapadia and Erin C. Long, all earned doctorate degrees from Kenan-Flagler, and their open letter details what they say are the school’s efforts to embrace diversity and assist students of color. The four women did not disclose their ethnicities in the letter, in which they wrote that, “we are concerned with the characterization of the department that has been reported in the media.”
“We cannot speak to everyone’s views about UNC or Kenan-Flagler, nor do we seek to diminish the experiences of others, but we can share our perspective and experience of the culture of the OB department’s Ph.D. program,” they wrote.
Excuse me if it’s a little difficult to not read their letter as diminishing the experiences of others, given it was written in the context of another student, Rose Brown, having just filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the school in August.
From NBC News
Rose Brown alleges in the lawsuit, filed last month in the U.S. District Court for North Carolina’s Middle District, that some faculty members at the university’s Kenan-Flagler Business School belittled her competence, scolded her after she was sexually assaulted, and encouraged her to underpay Black research participants, all before pushing her out of the school’s Ph.D. program, according to the lawsuit.
“It was torture in a lot of ways. I was ostracized from a faculty standpoint. I was continuously berated with various comments,” Brown, 28, told NBC News. “ It was humiliating. It was disheartening. It broke me down every day. I had panic attacks every time I went to school.”
Leigh, Younge, Kapadia and Long may not have felt like every day of trying to obtain their Ph.Ds was torturous, and that’s fine. But they also weren’t writing glowing open letters about how progressive Kenan-Flagler is on race and gender before Brown sued their alma mater either. If their goal wasn’t to diminish Brown’s lived experience, mounting a self-directed PR campaign for the school’s diversity efforts seems like a weird way to make that point.
Keep in mind that Kenan-Flagler is only one of several schools at the UNC Chapel Hill campus. Another is the Hussman School of Media and Journalism, which you might remember as the institution that last year decided to revoke its offer of a tenured professorship from the New York Times’ Nikole Hannah-Jones, a Black woman who’s a winner of both a Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur genius grant for her pioneering work in journalism. She also has a master’s degree from UNC Chapel Hill, but that didn’t stop the school from fumbling her appointment due to the objections of Walter Hussman, a Trump-supporting newspaper publisher who had the balls to accuse Hannah-Jones of lacking objectivity.
She took her talents to Howard University instead.
Maybe Leigh, Younge, Kapadia and Long just really, really care about their alma mater. Maybe they know something about Brown’s allegations that the rest of us don’t. Or maybe they’ve been sippin’ yac with Hussman, who convinced them to stand on the same principles that had him all up in Hannah-Jones’ business.
Or maybe, just maybe, they should’ve done the same thing they were doing before Brown filed her lawsuit: sat still and kept quiet about business that wasn’t theirs.