Smith College denies ex-employee’s claim that it’s hostile to white people

  • Smith College GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Smith College President Kathleen McCartney GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 2/23/2021 2:52:46 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Smith College is denying claims made by a staff member who resigned Friday that the college is a “racially hostile environment for white people” and that it tried to pay the employee to keep quiet about it.

“Ordinarily, a personnel matter of this nature would not warrant a letter from the president to the college community; however, in this instance the former employee, in her letter, accuses the college of creating a racially hostile environment for white people, a baseless claim that the college flatly denies,” college President Kathleen McCartney wrote in a letter to the community Monday on the college website.

The letter seems to be about Jodi Shaw, an employee who recently resigned from her job and whose resignation letter was published online in a blog written by Bari Weiss, former New York Times opinion writer. Asked to confirm if the president’s letter was about Shaw, college spokeswoman Stacey Schmeidel wrote that “the college stands behind President McCartney’s letter. Beyond that, we do not comment on potential or pending litigation.”

Shaw, who is white, writes that she resigned “to escape the racially hostile climate” at Smith College and in her job in the department of residential life. In addition, Shaw has raised more than $200,000 on a GoFundMe page entitled “Help Jodi Shaw With Legal and Living Expenses.”

Her 1,600-word resignation letter, included in Weiss’ blog post, details several complaints. She writes that programming she planned was canceled “because it was going to be done in rap form and ‘because you are white,’ as my supervisor told me, that could be viewed as ‘cultural appropriation.’”

Shaw also writes that when she declined to answer “various personal questions about race and racial identity” at a work retreat she said focused on “racial issues,” the facilitators “told everyone present that a white person’s discomfort at discussing their race is a symptom of ‘white fragility.’” She added that “my genuine discomfort was framed as an act of aggression” and that she was “humiliated.”

Shaw writes that she doesn’t want to work “where I am told — when I complain about having to engage in what I believe to be discriminatory practices — that there are ‘legitimate reasons for asking employees to consider race’ in order to achieve the college’s ‘social justice objectives.’”

Shaw, who appeared on Fox News Channel’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight” show in November to talk about Smith College’s “radical agenda,” also alleges that “I was offered a settlement in exchange for my silence, but I turned it down.”

McCartney’s letter says the former employee “suggests that Smith tried to buy her silence. But it was the employee herself who demanded payment of an exceptionally large sum in exchange for dropping a threatened legal claim and agreeing to standard confidentiality provisions.”

McCartney defended the college’s equity and inclusion efforts, saying they “are grounded in evidence. Research demonstrates the continued presence of systemic discrimination against people of color across all areas of society, from education to health care to employment. Redressing the reality of racism requires asking ourselves how we might, even inadvertently, reinforce existing inequalities or contribute to an exclusionary atmosphere.”

Acknowledging that “it might be uncomfortable to accept that each of us, regardless of color or background, may have absorbed unconscious biases or at times acted in ways that are harmful to members of our community,” McCartney writes that “such self-reflection is a prerequisite for making meaningful progress. The aim of our equity and inclusion training is never to shame or ostracize. Rather, the goal is to facilitate authentic conversations that help to overcome the barriers between us, and the college welcomes constructive criticism of our workshops and trainings.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, Shaw’s GoFundMe, promoted in Weiss’ blog post, had raised $214,143. On the GoFundMe page, Shaw writes that any funds over $150,000 will go into an escrow account for others.

“The purpose of this cause is to raise money for the legal and living (mortgage/rent, food, transportation, child care) expenses of myself and others who are were forced to leave their jobs due to a hostile work environment and/or would like to take legal action but cannot do so due to lack of financial resources.”

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.




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