November 17, 2003

Final sanctions decided for racial remark

By Michael Terrazas

As Emory Report went to press, a Campus Life investigation into the blackface incident at a recent student event has found that the two students involved apparently were not Emory students. The University is continuing to look into the incident to determine if any further action is necessary.

On Friday, Nov. 7, the University announced that final sanctions had been decided regarding Carol Worthman, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Anthropology, who made an inappropriate racial remark during a department panel discussion on Sept. 15.

Following Worthman's remark, a complaint was filed with the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs (EOP) by Assistant Professor Tracy Rone. EOP conducted an investigation and determined that Worthman's remarks were an isolated incident and did not indicate a "pattern of workplace hostility."

The office recommended several actions in response to the complaint, including public, written apologies both from Worthman and from department chair George Armelagos; mandatory diversity training for the entire anthropology department; dissemination of Emory's Policy Statement on Discriminatory Harassment to the University community; and undisclosed sanctions against Worthman ranging from a written reprimand to suspension.

Emotion over and discussion of the incident grew far beyond the anthropology department; a story in the Nov. 6 Atlanta Journal-Constitution detailed the events and featured comments from several individuals involved. On page 1 of this issue of Emory Report, President Jim Wagner delivers an open letter to all members of the Emory community presenting his views.

Rone and Worthman declined comment for this article, however other individuals did express some opinions. Emory College Dean Bobby Paul said he could not comment on specifics of the sanctions against Worthman, which are confidential, but he said "an appropriate sanction has been carried out."

"Emory's formal procedures for cases of this kind have been carefully followed," Paul said.

But some members of the community are dissatisfied with how the University handled the case. Nagueyalti Warren, associate dean of Emory College and chair of the President's Commission on the Status of Minorities (PCSM), said she does not think the investigation conducted by EOP was sufficiently thorough, and more action by the University is warranted.

"The commission believes the incident in the anthropology department is not isolated; we believe it is systemic, that the climate at Emory is conducive to acts of intolerance," Warren said. "In spite of our rhetoric about diversity and a welcoming environment for all people, minorities--especially African Americans--continue to suffer insults and smart from the insensitive behavior of members of the majority culture.

 "We believe the environment in the anthropology department is indeed hostile; further, we think that the silence that surrounded the incident within the department and outside [it] constitutes that hostility," Warren continued. "There was no outcry; there was no outrage. It was business as usual."

Warren said PCSM recommends that all members of the University community--faculty, staff and students--be required to undergo mandatory diversity training.

Armelagos, professor of anthropology, contests the notion that his department is a "hostile" environment, citing a number of initiatives such as conscious efforts to increase diversity through hiring; providing extra support in terms of office space and tenure considerations for minority faculty; and exposing "hundreds and often over a thousand" students each year to issues of race and racism through anthropology courses.

In a letter to anthropology faculty and students, Armelagos wrote, "(Worthman's) unfortunate choice of words caused members of our community to feel degraded and hurt by this derogatory term. As a discipline that fosters diversity and encourages racial and cultural understanding as one of our core values, this incident is intolerable and a profound embarrassment. While the EOP found the use of 'prejudicial and discriminatory language' an isolated incident, we must work as a community to create an environment in which this will never occur again."

As part of the sanctions implemented, the anthropology department held a public forum for faculty and students to talk about the incident and to discuss how to move forward as a community. One result of the forum, Armelagos said, is that groups of faculty and students will work together to deal with issues of inequality related to hierarchical structures within the department and the University.

"We will continue to strive to make the department a discrimination-free environment that will be an enjoyable and supportive workplace, allowing all of us to be productive members of our academic community," Armelagos said. "We will prevail in our efforts to do so."


For the University's statement, go to: