Why They Left
Multiple Black academics have resigned, citing concerns about institutional racism, this academic year -- most recently at the University of Memphis.
By Colleen Flaherty
May 3, 2021
Alena Allen earned promotion to full professor this academic year at the University of Memphis's Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law -- the first woman of color to do so within the program. But she’s leaving the institution before the promotion takes effect in July over ongoing concerns about racism on campus.
Allen shared those concerns in a resignation letter that has since been circulated and endorsed by multiple student groups on campus, including the Black Law Students Association.
Allen declined an interview request, saying she hadn’t meant for the letter to become public and that she felt uncomfortable talking about her case.
.....Not Just Memphis
Other Black faculty members have left their positions this academic year over concerns about racism.
Lesley Lokko, former dean of the Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture at City College of New York, a part of the City University of New York, resigned in October after just 10 months.
“My decision to leave Spitzer after less than a year is fairly straightforward: I was not able to build enough support to be able to deliver on either my promise of change, or my vision of it,” Lokko said in a public resignation letter. “In an incredibly bureaucratic and highly-regulated context, change is as much administrative as it is conceptual.” And so “lack of meaningful support -- not lip service, of which there’s always a surfeit -- meant my workload was absolutely crippling.”
Lokko, who is Ghanaian and Scottish, also wrote that race “is never far from the surface of any situation in the U.S.” Having previously established the Graduate School of Architecture at the University of Johannesburg, Lokko said that coming straight from South Africa didn’t prepare her for the way race manifests here, and “quite simply, I lacked the tools to both process and deflect it. The lack of respect and empathy for Black people, especially Black women, caught me off guard, although it’s by no means unique to Spitzer.”
Summing up her thoughts, Lokko wrote that “I suppose I’d say in the end that my resignation was a profound act of self-preservation.”
The resignation is effective at the end of January, giving Spitzer some time to look for a new dean.
Prior to Lokko’s arrival, Spitzer had been without a permanent dean for several years. That was part of the problem, she said in an interview Monday.
“It was almost like the second coming of the Messiah, they’d been waiting so long for a dean that was going to solve every problem and do almost everything, and I remember being a little wary of that. No single person can solve everything. That’s not possible.”