MCTC’s shift to equity ten years since the noose


Photo credit: Emily Lazear

Racial equity is still at the forefront of conversations at MCTC– following a storied past of uncertainty for disenfranchised groups.

10 years after a noose was hung in the newsroom of City College News, it seems that the college takes deliberate steps forward to place equity and accessibility at the forefront of its plans.

A strategic equity plan is underway for major revisions to a college working forward under new leadership. Within an entire policy review and brand study, this transition places a large focus into equity, which includes renovations and a diverse learning environment survey that has not yet been officially announced.

However, as Professor Shannon Gibney says, “There’s no institutional memory [at MCTC].”

Deep student/staff frustration

According to a 2013 article published in Gawker by Gibney, “[A] white male student, angry that writers had not made deadline, had thought it prudent to make a noose of his sweatshirt drawstring… and hang it, along with a menacing note to writers about the seriousness of deadlines. The two Black students in the room at the time protested, and asked him to take the noose down, but he didn’t listen.”

The meetings following this incident revealed a “deep student/staff frustration with racial climate on campus,” according to an email provided by a faculty member who asked to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions.

This email details a summarized timeline of the tumultuous relationship that MCTC had with equity over the next seven years.

SooJin Pate

2012. Kathleen DeVore, Shannon Gibney, and SooJin Pate have had paramount roles in equity work on campus.

Image Credit: Twin Cities Daily Planet

“[In] 2011, [four] English faculty [were] charged with discrimination by white adjunct for their racial equity work,” according to the email. At least one of these faculty members, SooJin Pate, was hired for her experience in critical race theory.

In an interview, Pate detailed a conversation with Chief Human Resources Officer Dianna Cusick.

“Around a month and a half [into working at MCTC] I got called in by the lawyer, Dianna Cusick, saying there’s been a complaint made—but she couldn’t tell me what the complaint was about. She sent me an email on Friday at 4:30, so it was the last thing, keeping me in suspense,” Pate said.

Pate said that it took almost a month before she could meet with Cusick to discuss the nature of the complaint.

“For that month, I was, like, crazy because I was second guessing everything that I was doing in the classroom,” she said.

Pate said this made her “suspicious and paranoid.”

She said that a white male student had made the complaint, citing discrimination because she was using the words “race, racism, and white privilege in the classroom and that was creating a hostile environment for him as a white man.” The school did a full investigation and found that the complaints were unfounded. The class description included language stating that race theory would be discussed.

Pate said that this process used “intimidation tactics.” She said that a physical precondition that she hadn’t experienced in ten years had come back and her doctors said “you need to quit or this job is gonna kill you.” She resigned in 2012.

The email stated: “Campus equity leader SooJin Pate resigns in protest and recognition that neither the president [Phil Davis, at the time], college, nor the English department are willing to really engage racial equity.”

“I think they target faculty of color who are trying to create institutional change, structural change, when it comes to stratifications of inequality,” Pate said.

“Do people change institutions or do institutions change people?” Gibney said to CCN.

Pate said the charges were dropped approximately two months after the first email.

“I’ve never been at an academic institution where my syllabus is being vetted,” she said. “I was hired as an expert in critical race theory. It was part of the job description, so I’m employing and teaching [it] in all of my classes, and that’s what I’m being targeted for? That makes no sense.”

Cusick did not respond to CCN’s request for statement.

Students Against Hunger and Homelessness

"Approximately ten percent of students surveyed at MCTC in the fall of 2010 reported they were homeless" according to an informal survey done of 1000 students. Shannon Beelman, formerly homeless, graduated from MCTC in the spring of 2013.

Image credit: CCN Archives

Mary Ann Prado, former director of Resource and Referral Services and advisor to Students Against Hunger and Homelessness, a group comprised mostly of people of color, said that they faced strong adversity with the administration of the time.

SAHH was giving out food and clothing during a scheduled time frame and a homeless student was looking through the clothes. Former MCTC President Phil Davis gave a tour to a couple of dignitaries– possibly donors or elected officials, according to reports from former students and Prado.

It was reported that Davis stopped momentarily in front of the SAHH office, before guiding the dignitaries past without mention.

“For me, as a student, it almost seemed like they were embarrassed about that space,” said Hafsa Khalif, former SAHH member.

Moments later, Laura Fedock, former dean of Student Affairs, rushed into the room and “started taking stuff out. She didn’t explain to me what was going on,” Khalif said.

She began hauling out the large boxes of canned goods and clothes. Khalif said that Fedock was a small woman and was lifting very heavy boxes, aggressively trying to clean the room out.

Tara Martinez, director of Student Life, came in after the fact.

“[Tara] was right there, she was not supportive at all,” Prado said. “She could’ve stopped Laura Fedock. Saying ‘hey wait a second Laura. This is SAHH. This is their day of distribution, let’s put a hold on it, let’s have a conversation with the advisor.’ That could’ve been easily prevented, but there was an urgency.”

“Maybe it was sending the wrong message that we’re not a social service agency, we’re here to educate the students,” Prado said. “It was almost like a stigma.”

“[Tara] does not care about the students’ part of it, and she is in charge of Student Life,” Khalif said.

Meron Tebeje, a student who worked in student life at the time reported that “[Tara] really tried to stay neutral, to be honest. Her job is on the line.”

Martinez did not respond to CCN’s request for statement.

Days later, after multiple requests for information about why this happened, Fedock said that she had a “dream that [they] need a bigger space,” Khalif said.

According to Prado, they were moved into the former campus clinic, which was not yet prepared for them.

Shannon Gibney

Shannon Gibney is currently a professor at MCTC as well as a writer and activist. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications.

Image credit: CCN Archives

In November 2013, according to the timeline contained in the faculty email, “Professor Shannon Gibney is charged for the second time with discrimination and harassment of/by white male students for addressing structural racism in journalism in a Journalism class; the college leadership supports the charge and finds her guilty; media maelstrom ensues.”

This event gained national attention, according to a 2014 issue of CCN. The reprimand was rescinded on May 23, 2014.

“This last minute removal of the letter of reprimand, especially if it is a full expungement, after all of President Davis’ and the Chancellor Rosenstone’s public claims that I deserved the letter of reprimand and that the press and everyone else didn’t know all the facts, now rings completely hollow,” Gibney said in a press release.

This rescission prevented the details of the reprimand from becoming public information.

A pattern of inequity

March, 2011. From a CCN article titled "Vincent DeLusia goes missing from classes." DeLusia was a black teacher of 27 years at MCTC, according to the article, which also states:

"A draft of a letter from the local chapter of the Minnesota State College Faculty (MSCF) to MCTC president Phil Davis says that DeLusia was terminated on Feb. 1," despite a recent public information request which stated that DeLusia had resigned.

Image credit: CCN Archives

The previously mentioned email laid out other questions of equity, such as defunding the basketball program in 2009.

“MCTC community of color campus response- anger and more frustration; highlighting President [Davis’] use of student fee funding for what [should] be supported with operating budget,” the email said.

In 2010, “23 year faculty member (Vince Delusia)- longest serving faculty of color- is fired midday in the middle of the term despite his long tenure and his starting African American history curriculum at the college.”

A recent public information request obtained by CCN stated that Delusia resigned.

In 2013, “Diversity VP Dr. Joi Lewis resigns due to impossible climate for this work.”

Lewis had been working at MCTC for a year and spoke of the difficulty of communicating with former President Davis.

No confidence vote against former MCTC president

According to the email, Davis said “MCTC is not a hostile environment for faculty of color” in 2012. This was “despite the voiced experience of faculty and staff of color here.”

In December of 2012, 44 of the college’s 378 faculty members at the time submitted a vote of no confidence against Davis.

According to the CCN archives, “Phil Davis officially left his presidency at MCTC on Aug. 8 [2014] to accept positions as Associate Vice Chancellor and Managing Director of the Campus Service Cooperative for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU).”

MCTC’s new leadership and a future of equity

Avelino Mills-Novoa was appointed as the interim president of MCTC three days after Davis resigned. Mills-Novoa held this position until July 1, 2016, when Dr. Sharon Pierce was appointed as the newest president of MCTC.

Dr. Pierce offered a statement of equity to City College News.

“As stated in MCTC’s Strategic Plan, becoming a leader in inclusion and equity is a top priority for the organization,” Pierce said.

She discussed moving forward “through multiple initiatives,” citing “greater transparency into policy revision and project planning,” as well as creating a staff professional development plan.

This plan is built on improving cultural fluency and changing position qualifications to put a focus on candidates’ skills and knowledge, resulting in a “more highly qualified and diverse pools of candidates.”

“Recognizing that MCTC has some healing to do in terms of real or perceived inequities, we are working through past issues and continuing to move forward on our journey to becoming an industry-recognized leader in diversity,” Pierce said.

Staff and faculty equity

COVER Photo credit: Emily Lazear

Dr. Jay Williams, chief diversity officer and executive director of diversity, detailed the Strategic Inclusion Plan (a 19-page paper dated 2016-2020) and addressed equity for students, staff and faculty of MCTC.

A faculty and support group was started.

“We’ve hosted many implicit bias trainings. Also, training in terms of microaggressions because that… really impacts the quality of the work experience for people of color,” Williams said. “It all adds up. It’s like death through a thousand cuts.”

The professional development plan includes 20 hours a year per person of cultural fluency work.

“Both implicit bias and microaggressions are a part of [those twenty hours],” he said

Major transitions are underway at MCTC with the branding study, a complete policy review and new leadership, “and we’re just now convening a subcommittee to put the equity lens on every policy review. Under the president’s direction, we plan to review all school policies in the next 18 months,” Williams said.

“Under the leadership of Dianna Cusick, we have largely shifted an emphasis away from credentials, and towards competency and skill-based hiring. In terms of equity, what that’s allowed us to do is to hire many of our own graduates as soon as they earn the AA. Or AAS. And of course HR is a great example, we have four former MCTC students in that division right now,” Williams said.

Williams said that the first barrier to equity is access.

“If you’re barred from even applying to the job because of qualifications in terms of credentials– we’re seeing that the best person with the most relevant experience couldn’t even apply because of that barrier,” Williams said.

“Dianna has championed that,” said Deanna Sheeley, Chief Communications Officer. “Not just for MCTC but across Minnesota State System. And we actually have a story coming out on that because it’s a huge deal. It’s huge progress over some of the past that I think [CCN is] referring to.”

Student equity and planned renovations for inclusion center

Dr. Jay said that the equity and inclusion subcommittees have involved nearly one hundred staff, faculty and students.

“It’s really grassroots and broad-based. I think the opportunity to do that speaks to those equity questions,” Jay said.

Dr. Jay and Sheeley also discussed the renovations that will be taking place in the T-building. An inclusion center is planned for implementation on campus.

A name hasn’t yet been decided because “we’re more focused on making a home for each community in there,” Williams said. “After we build all the homes for these communities, then we’ll think of some connecting theme like ‘sovereignty and solidarity hall’ or something.”

Williams says that the diversity at MCTC is a strength and makes the school unique.

“So some of these groups that either never had a home, now they’ll have a permanent place at the front door of the campus,” Williams said.

The planned space is expected to be near where Tiffin Man currently sits.

“Part of what I love about it, is when I entered Truman College in Chicago, and I saw the student services line, and there was a door here, that door was the president’s office. And it said, this is important,” Williams said. “So I think we’re saying who our students are is important to us.”