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EEOC complaint at Brockport connected to diversity officer’s firing

The College at Brockport's Hartwell Hall. (Photo by Daniel Penfield)

The College at Brockport’s Hartwell Hall. (Photo by Daniel Penfield)

An administrative assistant’s federal complaint against The College at Brockport over racial bias has become intertwined with the recent dismissal of Chief Diversity Officer Cephas Archie.

The complaint was filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in late October 2019, but amended just last week to include details about Archie in support of Victoria Elsenheimer’s claim of systemic racial discrimination at SUNY Brockport.

Elsenheimer, assistant to the vice president for advancement, charged in her original complaint that she was one of four administrative assistants to SUNY Brockport vice presidents but the only one who hadn’t received a boost in title in September 2018. She didn’t find out about the title change until May 2019. She’s also the only assistant of the four who is African-American; the others are white.

The college declined to comment on the EEOC complaint.

Elsenheimer has worked for the college since 1998 and became a vice-presidential assistant in 2003; she’s the most senior of the four assistants.

After she complained to college officials about the disparity of titles, they gave her the title of executive assistant in June 2019. But Elsenheimer said she never received an answer to her formal questions about why she wasn’t informed about the possibility of a title change when the others were, and why she wasn’t elevated nine months earlier.

She said her supervisor told her she already earned more than the other assistants and though she had a spotless work record, one of the others had said she had communicated recently in a hostile manner.

The complaint was filed in October, but Elsenheimer last week added an amendment concerning then-Chief Diversity Officer Cephas Archie’s attempts to mediate racial discrimination at the college, which she alleges shows a pattern of discrimination. Archie was fired Jan. 24 for what he described as “performance issues.”

Students and staff protested the firing and President Heidi Macpherson held a town hall meeting to air complaints Jan. 27.

Elsenheimer said she was filing the addendum to provide additional “examples of institutional discrimination and racism by The College, some of its cabinet members and” Macpherson.

She noted that all of the vice presidents at the college are white, as are the members of the staff through which complaints are dealt with, including campus police, Title IX officer, human resources, and affirmative action officers.

The addendum also details a situation in which a major department chair retired and the most senior member of the department, who is African-American, was offered the job on an interim basis, but “the offer and terms were so unattractive that they knew the African-American could not and would not accept the position.” She said a white man without the requisite qualifications, experience or subject expertise was appointed instead.

Archie and other equity officials intervened, and an investigation into racial matters at the college followed by a consultant, Curtis Lloyd, former vice chancellor of SUNY. Elsenheimer was one of the people Lloyd interviewed.

Lloyd gave a report on his findings to Macpherson, but Elsenheimer alleges that Macpherson only shared her interpretations of the findings with others. Elsenheimer has filed a Freedom of Information Request for the report.

Elsenheimer also cited a renovation of administration offices starting in 2018 in which all the white administrators were temporarily moved to Daily Hall; Archie alone was moved to Morgan Hall, which she described as “a dirty, roach-infested building that lacked proper heating and lighting and had been designated for demolition.” She said Archie’s white administrative assistant went with the other people to Daily Hall.

Archie, along with Shaun Nelms, superintendent of East High School, appeared on WXXI’s “Connections with Evan Dawson” show Monday, to discuss Archie’s firing.

Nelms said Archie has been a leader in the community for people of all colors on the issues of diversity. But he noted that he has also seen, time and again, when diversity officers do the job they’re hired to do and present plans to improve things, they’re dismissed.

Archie’s removal will tarnish the college’s reputation, Nelms said.

“Anything short of a formal apology and a reinstatement is going to have long-standing ramifications on that campus,” Nelms said.

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