Letters to the Editor

Letter to the Editor: Where did all the Black people go?

 To The Trail,

 On October 20, 2023, it was brought to my attention by another Black colleague that the second-highest ranking Black administrator (second only to the president) at the University would not be returning to her position as an associate vice president. Apparently, I had missed the announcement in a university-wide email disseminated on Monday, October 16, the Monday of Fall Break, with a very nondescript subject heading: “Division of University Relations Staffing Update.” I assumed, like many people perhaps, that the email didn’t seem like something of importance. Sending such an important announcement, in this manner, seems to be the modus operandi of our university. When announcing potentially unsettling major decisions, the university has a habit of sending such correspondence during less engaged times at the university. How many emails have arrived on a Friday afternoon ready for the weekend or in this case during the middle of fall break?

  This October 16 email was sent by the VP for University Relations, Victor Martin and in the first paragraph it stated: “Some of you may be aware that Associate Vice President for Constituent Relations Allison Cannady-Smith, a long-serving member of the University Relations team, has been on leave since the spring. I write now to share the news that Allison will not be returning to Puget Sound, and to provide an update on my plans for the unit moving forward.” I assume the vagueness of why former Associate VP Allison Cannady-Smith was departing or where she was going from here, may have had people perplexed. I was one of those people and I was also someone who knew of her being on leave, only because I began wondering where she was, and I inquired. And yet she is not the only employed Black person to go missing from Puget Sound in the recent past. With the departure of our former Black associate vice president, I want to focus this piece on the exodus of Black folk at the University of Puget Sound: where did all the Black people go?

  I originally wanted to pen this piece in the summer of 2023 when traveling to multiple African countries (where most of the people are Black), when I was made aware of the highest ranked person of color in Athletics departing us, Assistant Athletics Director Jenee James. The University of Puget Sound has a major staff retention issue, it was reported by Human Resources in a fall faculty meeting that we have a 25% staff turnover rate. In that meeting I also asked that in the future they disaggregate the data so we could learn more about why staff of color, not only our Black staff, are departing. Of course, many of you have witnessed how Black staff and Black faculty do a different type of grind on this campus, an often uniquely heavier toll in the work we do for students, all students, but especially students of color. And nevertheless, perhaps you read that statement and said: “I don’t agree with that.” Or “I haven’t seen that.” Well, a lot of the work Black folk do for our university is in the dark and unfortunately sometimes they also depart in the dark without people really knowing how, when, or why they left. Does our university want to know why Black staff and faculty leave? Does our university want to know why some of our strongest non-Black staff and faculty of color, who were strong in the diversity, equity, and inclusion work, have also departed? How can we claim to work to retain our students of color if we are not doing the work to retain our staff and faculty of color? How can we claim to be unpacking the reasons for why students of color don’t feel a sense of belonging when we consistently don’t look at the staff and faculty who realize at some point they may just be in the sunken place and it’s time to get out.

  To end this piece, but with the goal of shedding light on what has been too often in the dark, I want to list the Black staff and faculty that departed the University of Puget Sound over the last seven years or so. And additionally, I want to list some of the non-Black staff and faculty of color who have departed and who did the work of diversity, equity, inclusion, and oh yeah belonging on our campus. Obviously, I cannot guarantee my lists will be complete, and I apologize if I miss someone (another reality of our staff turnover rate and departures in the dark). The goal of this list is to put on the record in a public and archival space the names of those who have left and to share with those who are reading that some of us have been paying attention, and it is essential that we all pay attention. For the purpose of bringing light into the dark, please see the lists below.


A Concerned Black Employee of the University of Puget Sound

Janice Jackson-HaleyDirector of Human ResourcesJune 2018
Aaron Lowry (faculty)Assistant Professor of MarketingJuly 2018
Tammy SmithSenior Facilities Planner and DesignerAugust 2019
Tiffany Davis-Brantley Associate Director of Diversity and Inclusion & Deputy Title IX CoordinatorJanuary 2019
Tricia Speid Assistant Director of Diversity and InclusionMarch 2020
Uchenna BakerVice President for Student Affairs and Dean of StudentsJuly 2021
Dexter Gordon (faculty)Inaugural Director of Race & Pedagogy Institute and of African American Studies, Professor of AFAM and Communication StudiesAugust 2021
Angela WeaverFine and Performing Arts LibrarianMay 2022
Tolu TaiwoAssistant Director of Access ProgramsJune 2022
Brittney JacksonAssistant Director of Admissions and Multicultural Recruitment CoordinatorJanuary 2021
Rachel VaughanStudent Technology Experience ManagerJune 2022
Khalila FordhamCHWS Psychologist and Multicultural Support Specialist2022
Allison Cannady-SmithVice President for Constituent Relations October 2023
Jenee JamesAssistant Athletics DirectorJuly 2023

Here is a list of non-Black people of color who we have lost in the last decade. Again, this is from asking colleagues based on their memory.

  1. Michael Benitez (Dean)
  2. Robert Magdaleno
  3. Tyler Pau
  4. Vivie Nguyen
  5. Doris Tinsley
  6. Kariann Lee
  7. Andrea Reyes
  8. Daniel Lee
  9. Starre Helm
  10. Aldrin Villahermosa
  11. Alice Coil
  12. Mike Segawa (VP)
  13. Oriel Siu (faculty Latino Studies)
  14. Ameera Nimjee (faculty Music)
  15. Valeria Ochoa (faculty Hispanic Studies)
  16. Adrian J. Villicana (faculty Psychology)
  17. Sarah West (faculty Hispanic Studies)
  18. Tamiko Nimura (faculty English)
  19. Joseph Colon
  20. Ti Nguyen