NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The president of Loyola University of New Orleans has apologized for the way the school handled allegations that the former head of its communications department mistreated black and LGBTQ students and showed bias against them.
Loyola University President Tania Tetlow also said in an email Monday that Sonya Duhé may have been making pragmatic suggestions rather than showing bias in statements about natural black hairstyles, The Times-Picayune / The New Orleans Advocate reported.
Duhé, who directed Loyola’s School of Communication and Design for more than a decade, resigned to become dean of Arizona State University’s journalism school, starting July 1. However, the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication canceled its offer Sunday after more than 20 former Loyola students told student newspapers at both universities that Duhé had mistreated them.
The Times-Picayune reported at least two students at the private Catholic university said they had filed official complaints which the Maroon, Loyola’s student newspaper, reviewed. The two black women said Duhé had made inappropriate and demeaning comments about their appearance, cautioning them against natural hairstyles.
Duhé denied the allegations, and it’s not clear what the university did about the complaints.
In a letter to the campus community, Tetlow said those alleged comments reflect broadcast news business biases, and suggested that Duhé might not have been showing personal prejudice but offering pragmatic career advice.
“Of course we have an obligation to advise and warn students about these biases and expectations in the profession,” she wrote. “But we must do so while making clear how unfair those unwritten rules are in their application, how rooted they are in the oppression of people of color, particularly women. We need to talk through the kinds of choices our graduates will make between trying to achieve the power necessary to change the rules or deciding to end run the game altogether.”
She wrote. “I hear with dismay the expressions of deep pain by students who felt that the implied limits of their opportunities were expressed as fact, without regret or acknowledgement of the deep injustice embedded in those limits. I apologize on behalf of the University that Loyola did not do a better job of fixing this situation that was, in fact, brought to our attention.”
Duhé won’t return to Loyola, university officials said. Lisa Collins is interim director while the university searches for a permanent director.
“Our responsibility is to make our students aware of implicit and systematic racism by acknowledging that it exists and helping them strategize about how they can help the profession, and society, make changes. As a Jesuit institution, we analyze injustices in order to dismantle them,” Tetlow wrote.
Her letter did not indicate how the university dealt with the complaints about Duhé but said the university’s system for hearing and adjudicating complaints is imperfect.