Suit alleges years of anti-Black discrimination at college

It has been 18 months since USC researchers exposed “a palpable climate of anti-Blackness at Southwestern College” that included Black employees being called racial slurs and being overlooked for promotions.

And even though the San Diego County community college has taken significant steps to address the report’s findings, five current and former Black employees have filed a discrimination lawsuit, suggesting the problems persist.

The lawsuit references USC’s report and outlines the employees’ allegations, which occurred both before and after the report was published in June 2018 and mirror the researchers’ findings.

USC’s report highlighted individual instances — such as Latino custodial staff making monkey sounds at Black coworkers through walkie-talkies and a Black employee being relocated from the main campus because a white female coworker said she was afraid of him — that collectively painted a damning picture of institutional anti-Black racism on campus.

A student and employee survey conducted in March showed that 40% of employees felt there was a lot of racial tension at Southwestern College and that 50% of employees had witnessed discrimination on campus.

In response to this story, Southwestern College issued the following statement:

“Southwestern College takes pride in being the only public institution of higher education in Southern San Diego County serving a diverse community of students and employees. Southwestern College works to embrace our wonderful diversity and always strives to foster a collaborative and inclusive environment.

“Southwestern College has long had policies against racism and discrimination. The College will continue to uphold the highest professional standards for all its employees and will continue to build and strengthen equity and inclusion in the workplace. The College is committed to remaining a leader in San Diego County to ensure there is no place for racial discrimination in our community.”

Southwestern College declined to directly answer any questions about the lawsuit or make employees available for interviews. Instead, the college referred specific questions to an outside attorney.

“Southwestern College was made aware of the lawsuit that has been filed by current and former employees alleging racial discrimination in their employment with the college,” President Kindred Murillo wrote in a statement. “The College is reviewing the complaint, takes the allegations raised seriously and will address any issues in an appropriate and thorough manner.”

The outside attorney, Aaron Hines of the Winet Patrick Gayger Creighton & Hanes law firm, said he was still reviewing the 37-page complaint. The document contains several allegations and names dozens of individuals; therefore, it will take some time to determine their validity.

“It’s probably premature to comment on any specific allegation,” he said.

One of the most recent allegations is said to have happened in January. Brandon Williams, a 29-year-old Black man, claims tension between the counseling department’s Black workers and everyone else was so high that he was the only Black employee to attend a training retreat.

During a discussion on race, a Latino employee dismissed USC’s report by allegedly claiming that there “is no anti-Blackness on campus; instead, the campus is

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Black former University of Iowa football players seek $20M in racial discrimination claim

The University of Iowa has rejected a request from several of its Black former football players demanding $20 million in damages over the racial discrimination they faced while playing for the Hawkeyes.

In a letter dated Oct. 5, civil rights attorney Demario Solomon-Simmons — who is representing the players — wrote the university saying that during their college football career the eight players “were subjected to intentional race discrimination by coaching staff and administration.”

“Through the Program’s pervasive harassment, bullying, policies causing disparate impact, and race-based threats and retaliation, our clients were deprived of a meaningful opportunity to pursue a high-quality education while competing at the highest level of collegiate athletics,” Solomon-Simmons continued.

Specifically, the letter was addressed to Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, assistant coach Brian Ferentz and athletic director Gary Berta, calling for all three to be fired.

In addition to the firings and the multimillion-dollar payout, the letter had other demands, including compulsory anti-racist training for all athletics staff, the creation of a permanent Black male senior administrator position in the department and tuition waivers for all Black players who didn’t graduate under Kirk Ferentz’s 22-year tenure as head coach.  

The letter also stated that if the university failed to agree to the terms listed by Monday, Oct. 19, then a lawsuit against the coaches and the university would “promptly” be filed.

On Sunday, Carroll Reasoner — the university’s general counsel — replied, “We respectfully decline your monetary and personnel demands,” noting that the university and team had already “publicly addressed some of the concerns.”

Widespread allegations of racial discrimination and mistreatment at the university surfaced in June when 60 former players publicly shared their experiences. This led to Iowa firing its longtime strength and conditioning coach Chris Boyle and having law firm Husch Blackwell conduct an independent review of the football program.

The review, released at the end of July, stated that the program’s structure “perpetuated racial or cultural biases and diminished the value of cultural diversity,” but that “immediate and positive changes” had been implemented since the review started.

The potentially looming lawsuit comes as the Hawkeyes are set to start their coronavirus-shortened season at Purdue on Saturday.

Ferentz briefly addressed the letter Sunday night.

“I am disappointed to receive this type of demand letter. Due to the threat of litigation, I am not able to address the specific comments made by our former players,” Ferentz said, per the Des Moines Register. “As you may know, this past summer we made adjustments to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment for all of our student-athletes. These changes include both policies and rules, as well as an expanded leadership council of current players and a new advisory committee comprised of former players.”

The existence of Solomon-Simmons’s letter was first reported by the Register. 

Solomon-Simmons’s office told The Hill that he’s expected to formally respond to Iowa’s rejection of his sometime Monday afternoon.

The university’s general counsel’s office didn’t immediately respond to The Hill’s request for comment.

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Eight former University of Iowa football players seek $20 million, Kirk Ferentz’s firing over racial discrimination

Eight Black former University of Iowa football players are seeking $20 million in compensation and for athletics director Gary Barta, head coach Kirk Ferentz and assistant coach Brian Ferentz to be fired over what they contend was intentional racial discrimination during their Hawkeye careers.

Brian Ferentz’s first media comments since racial-bias investigation



The group, which includes two of the football program’s most prolific producers in Akrum Wadley and Kevonte Martin-Manley, made the demands in a certified, 21-page letter sent to the UI. A copy of the letter, dated Oct. 5, has been obtained by the Des Moines Register.

The group is represented by Tulsa civil rights attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons and has additional demands, including attorney’s fees; the creation of a permanent Black male senior administrator position in Iowa athletics; mandatory anti-racist training for athletics staff; the establishment of a board of advisers including Black players and anti-racist professionals to oversee the football program; and tuition waivers for any Black athlete who did not graduate with a degree during Kirk Ferentz’s 22-year tenure. 

Kirk Ferentz holding a sign: Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz speaks during a press conference, Friday, June 12, 2020, in Iowa City, Iowa.

© Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz speaks during a press conference, Friday, June 12, 2020, in Iowa City, Iowa.

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According to the letter, if the demands are not met to the former athletes’ satisfaction by Monday, Oct. 19, the athletes were prepared to pursue a lawsuit “to ensure they are rightfully compensated for their emotional, mental and bodily damages and that Iowa is appropriately held accountable for its unlawful, discriminatory conduct.” 

On Sunday, UI general counsel Carroll Reasoner formally replied to Solomon-Simmons to say the football program had previously taken steps to implement some of the demands but unequivocally added, “We respectfully decline your monetary and personnel demands.” 

In other words: No $20 million settlement and no further firings.  

To date, 21-year strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle is the only person to lose his job over racial-bias allegations that shook the program in early June.  

UI president Bruce Harreld, who on Oct. 1 (four days before this letter was submitted) announced his plans for retirement, shared this statement Sunday: “We appreciate some former athletes sharing insights on their experience while at the University of Iowa. Many of their concerns have been reviewed and addressed. And to be clear, any student-athlete that has left the university and did not obtain their degree is welcome to return, and we are here to support them.

“There are several demands outlined in the letter, and we are proud of the efforts made to date. We have a path forward that includes ideas and recommendations from many current and former students aimed at making the University of Iowa a more inclusive and better place to learn, grow and compete as an athlete. However, the university rejects the demands for money and personnel changes.”

The brewing lawsuit is a continuation of

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Citing a ‘toxic atmosphere,’ a Black admissions employee resigns from Loyola University, prompting a discrimination probe and calls for racial justice on campus

At Loyola University Chicago, where fewer than 6% of undergraduates are Black, Marcus Mason-Vivit’s presence comforted minority students who rarely found someone who looked like them on campus.

a man wearing a suit and tie: Marcus Mason-Vivit, shown on Loyola University Chicago's campus, resigned from his job in the admissions office, citing a "toxic atmosphere ... particularly pertaining to people of color."

© Stacey Wescott / Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/TNS
Marcus Mason-Vivit, shown on Loyola University Chicago’s campus, resigned from his job in the admissions office, citing a “toxic atmosphere … particularly pertaining to people of color.”

A Black man himself, Mason-Vivit led the private Jesuit university’s efforts to increase racial diversity among first-year students in his role at the Undergraduate Admission Office. He was known to send high school seniors handwritten letters encouraging them to attend Loyola and for going out of his way to forge relationships with the Black students he met.

But last month, Mason-Vivit stepped down from his position in multicultural recruitment. In a scathing resignation letter that quickly circulated on social media, he called the admissions office a “toxic atmosphere of hostility, intimidation, fear and manipulation … especially pertaining to people of color” and described an incident where his boss, the dean of undergraduate admission, allegedly made a racially disparaging remark. His departure has prompted Loyola to initiate an investigation.

Now, students and faculty are rallying behind Mason-Vivit, raising questions about Loyola’s newly stated goal of “becoming a fully inclusive anti-racist institution.”

“We do not think that this initiative will achieve much credibility until the issues, such as those raised by Marcus Mason, and the school’s handling of such complaints have been thoroughly addressed,” leaders of a Loyola faculty organization wrote in a letter to university President Jo Ann Rooney.

In an interview with the Tribune, Mason-Vivit, 34, said he tried reporting his concerns to the human resources office in July but felt brushed aside, leading eventually to his Aug. 24 resignation.

“I will no longer work in an environment diametrically opposed to my principles and the obligation to respect my existence,” he wrote in his resignation letter.

The dean of undergraduate admission, Erin Moriarty, declined to comment, saying by email that she does “not want to jeopardize the integrity of this investigation in any way by speaking out of turn.”

Loyola spokeswoman Anna Rozenich confirmed the investigation, related to “allegations of discrimination” in the office, is ongoing but would not say who is conducting it. After Loyola’s Office for Equity and Compliance began an internal investigation, the school decided to hire outside experts to lead the probe “due to the charged nature” of the allegations, Rozenich said.

“Out of respect for the rights of all parties, we must maintain that all parties deserve to be heard, and allow the investigation to be thoroughly conducted and conclude while refraining from judgment or condemnation,” Rozenich said in an emailed statement.

She said “appropriate action” will be taken at the end of the investigation and emphasized Loyola’s policy prohibiting discrimination.

Mason-Vivit, however, said he could no longer remain silent. His last day as Loyola’s associate director for multicultural recruitment was Sept. 4, and he previously worked in the admission office from

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