SU Alumna Expresses Outrage over Recent Tenure Decision in Letter Written to President Burger and the Administration
Courtesy of Paige Duggins
To President Burger and the Administration of Southwestern University:
I write to you today with confusion, disappointment, and outrage. I came to Southwestern with the promise of diversity and inclusion in my undergraduate education; however, this and the prior administration have consistently shown that when times get tough, resources for young men and women of color and other diverse backgrounds get cut.
When a group of white fraternity members in Oklahoma decided to sing derogatory and hateful songs, the country was outraged. However, we cannot pretend that this kind of racially charged tension does not exist at Southwestern University. During my time at Southwestern, SU students targeted African Americans, members of the Jewish faith, and the LGBTQ community by scribbling offensive and hateful graffiti on students’ dormitory doors – the entrance to their homes. Moreover, some students showed their lack of sensitivity and respect for African American men, posting racially charged photos, comments, and accounts of false accusations of Black male students following a trumped up allegation of kidnapping and sexual assault. This hateful malaise has also touched me personally: after The Megaphone reported on the incident described above, over a hundred copies of the newspaper were found burned in the BBQ grill outside of the McCombs apartments – outside of my home. This was a personal message sent to me, as The Megaphone‘s first-ever African-American Editor in Chief, and the author of the article.
I came to Southwestern as a Bishop Ernest T. Dixon Scholar – a scholarship specifically designed to increase representation of African American and Hispanic students at Southwestern. Before coming to Southwestern, I was assured that diversity was a core value of the University. However, when I came to SU I was dismayed to look around and find that hardly anyone looked like me. That is, until I walked into the second floor of the Cullen building on the first day of classes and into Dr. Carina Evans’ Introduction to American Literature class. I remember the rush of warmth and relief I felt in seeing her – a woman who looked like me. There is no way to quantify or measure that value; perhaps this is why the University has so egregiously erred in refusing to award her tenure. Professor Evans is unquestionably a sound English scholar and an excellent educator – however, among her greatest qualities is her ability to facilitate meaningful and inspiring dialogue among her students. She took our shy and standoffish first-year class and transformed us into young thinkers and believers in ourselves and in our ability to engage with the issues of the world in a powerful way. Dr. Evans embodies Southwestern’s mantra of “transforming lives;” I remain dumbfounded as to how the University has rejected such a pristine example of the spirit of Southwestern.
Dr. Evans has made significant contributions to the University that should not be disregarded. When asked to step in as the Director of the Debby Ellis Writing Center – of which I was a consultant – she not only accepted the role, but excelled in it. Moreover, Dr. Evans was vital to bringing the RES minor to Southwestern, and one of my most meaningful Southwestern moments was seeing her beaming face as she draped the green and blue cord around my shoulders at the Multicultural Recognition Ceremony shortly before graduation. As a member of the first class of students who had the opportunity to earn this credential, I’ll never forget the look of pride that she gave me. It breaks my heart to think that Professor Evans will be denied the opportunity to nurture and participate in this essential educational program she played a key role in developing.
I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to serve with Dr. Evans on the University’s Diversity Enrichment Committee. Not only is she a strong advocate for diversity education, she provided an amazing role model and mentor for me to develop my own advocacy skills. She encouraged me to speak up at DEC meetings, and helped me articulate the difficult and occasionally painful realities about life as a minority student in higher education. Dr. Evans and the other members of the DEC instilled confidence that Southwestern cared about my particular experience and was committed to improving diversity education for all students. However, after the University’s decision to dump my mentor and role model in such an undignified and unprecedented manner, I’m left wondering – what does that say about the Administration’s perception of me?
I recognize that the University faces fiscal and other administrative crises. This, however, is no excuse for throwing away priceless talent and invaluable human capital. Time and time again this University has chipped away at diversity education, rather than strengthening it. Southwestern recently raised over 150 million dollars as part of a comprehensive, ten-year fundraising campaign. As part of this program, the Development Office pledged to raise 400 thousand dollars for diversity education, resources, and scholarships. Not only did the University fail to meet this goal – it failed try at all. Not one dollar was raised toward unrestricted funds for diversity education or the Dixon scholarship. While the university shrugged this failure off as a mere casualty, those of us in the diversity community were outraged. The wanton attitude of the Administration in failing to meet this goal was an unbearable affront to the Southwestern’s Core Values, and to students and alumni in the diversity community personally.
Southwestern must recognize that failing to provide for diversity and diversity education harms everyone – and especially our students of color. The attrition of minority students and the examples of discriminatory and hateful behavior described above is evidence of this need. It is time for Southwestern to make an investment in the character and emotional development of its students. Southwestern has the opportunity and the responsibility to be a leader in diversity education. This means taking account of the intangible qualities that make Southwestern faculty the best and the most loved in the whole world.
I remain proud to be a Southwestern alumna, and will continue to support my alma mater. By continuing this destructive pattern of reducing resources for diversity, however, this University is losing swaths of other alumni of color who feel betrayed by the loss of Dr. Carina Evans on the faculty, and by the stories of hatred and abuse that have arisen from student conduct in recent years. Beyond this, moreover, Southwestern stands to lose its most valuable asset of all: its students. This includes students of color specifically and students who value an educational experience in which diversity and equal opportunity are truly at its core.
Southwestern must invest in increasing diversity among its faculty, and the University must take responsibility for its failure to retain such a bright and beloved professional. Like the failure of meeting fundraising goals, this outcome is yet another example of the University’s refusal to prioritize diversity education. I strongly urge this Administration to reconsider its decision to withhold tenure from Dr. Carina Evans. Southwestern stands to lose a valuable asset in both the English department and among the diversity community. If the Administration chooses to stand by its decision, however, the University should take steps to ensure that a tragedy like this never occurs again. Although I always think fondly of my time at Southwestern, that image will be forever tarred if this decision is upheld, because I cannot imagine a Southwestern without Dr. Evans.
Paige Duggins ‘14
Chair of Life Lifelong Learning, Alumni Council
The Association of Southwestern University Alumni