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A former UNC graduate student says her professors forced her out of her doctoral program. Now she’s filing a discrimination complaint

CHAPEL HILL, North Carolina – When Angelica Rose Brown was accepted for a Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan Flagler Business School. Program in 2020, she said it brought her closer to her career aspirations.

Brown entered the program that year with high hopes: she wanted to do extensive research on code-switching and diversity and inclusion issues, get her doctorate, and become a college professor teaching organizational behavior.

But a year into the five-year program, Brown said her plans were derailed when professors forced her out of the doctoral program, saying she was no longer a good candidate.

“At first I felt disbelief, and then from there it was just immense psychological and emotional distress,” Brown told CNN. “It was heartbreaking.”

Brown is now suing the university, three of her former professors and the UNC Board of Governors in federal court on the grounds that some faculty and school officials discriminated against her because she is black and a woman.

In the lawsuit, filed Aug. 30, Brown also accuses three professors of retaliation against her after she reported the discrimination to the business school’s Diversity and Inclusion Program and Equal Opportunity Compliance Office.

UNC officials declined to comment on Brown’s lawsuit.

“We are aware of these allegations but are unable to comment on the ongoing litigation at this time,” UNC spokesman Pace Sagester said in an email. “UNC-Chapel Hill strives to provide a positive educational experience for all of our students.”

Brown said his forced withdrawal reflected a pattern of systemic racism at school. She wants the professors named in the lawsuit to be held accountable for their actions and to receive more training on diversity and inclusion.

“It’s very egregious,” says Brown

Brown’s lawsuit describes a chain of events that led to her reporting the alleged discrimination to university officials and being expelled from the doctoral program.

According to the complaint, Brown asked her professors for “periodic planning accommodations, including potential extensions of research projects” after she said she was raped and sexually assaulted twice by a male acquaintance in 2020. Brown claims that she also shared with professors that she had experienced pre-existing post-traumatic stress disorder and documented it in her enrollment file. PTSD was exacerbated by the alleged sexual abuse, according to the lawsuit. Brown said she got the extensions, but the professors named in the lawsuit chastised her for missing what Brown calls a non-mandatory curriculum seminar because she had a court hearing to get a restraining order. protection from the man she claims raped her.

Brown tried to file criminal charges against her rapist, but Durham officials refused because it was a “non-foreign” matter, according to her lawyer. CNN has contacted Durham Police for comment.

The lawsuit also claims that Brown had several disagreements with professors, including over his approach to research topics such as code-switching with African Americans; who they would recruit for their research team; and sources of funding for research projects. The complaint also states that at the end of Brown’s first semester at UNC, she received a “Pass” grade in an introductory class while her classmates received a “High Pass.” Brown says she was the only black woman in the class.

In June 2021, Brown reported “what she believed to be a pattern of discriminatory behavior within her program” to the business school’s Diversity and Inclusion program, the lawsuit says. That same month, she also filed a discrimination complaint with the university’s Equal Opportunity Compliance Office.

During an academic review held on Zoom in July 2021, Brown said her professors indicated that several professors had complained about her frequent requests for time extensions, that she was not progressing academically, and that she had cut ties with the faculty, according to the lawsuit. Brown’s professors said she had no path to follow in the doctoral program and could be released in May 2022 with a master’s degree, according to the lawsuit, which Brown eventually did.

The lawsuit alleges that Brown’s adverse review was “retaliatory” for discrimination reports she had filed the previous month.

Brown’s attorney, Artur Davis, told CNN his client had good grades, stellar research and was “successful in every way,” but the university forced her out of the doctoral program anyway. .

Davis said the lawsuit is needed so there is more accountability for institutions that treat black people unfairly.

“Discrimination continues in this world because people think they can get away with it,” Davis said. “He’s telling this institution that thinks it’s untouchable that the world is watching, people are watching and there’s scrutiny of your behavior.”

“UNC needs some soul-searching,” he added.

Brown said that in addition to liability for the professors named in the lawsuit, she is seeking damages for emotional distress, mental anguish and loss of earning potential.

“It’s bigger than gross negligence, it’s very egregious,” Brown said. “Being complicit in these behaviors on the part of these professors sends the message that all professors can treat students this way and it’s okay.”

Brown, 28, said his withdrawal from UNC was a career setback. “I lost two years in the job market,” she said.

She was able to enroll in another doctoral program at Cornell University this year and says she is expected to graduate in 2027.

The university has been criticized in recent years for its record on diversity and inclusion

Brown’s lawsuit came weeks after UNC reached a settlement with award-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, whose tenure as Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism was initially denied by the board despite a recommendation of the tenure committee. The board later granted tenure to Hannah-Jones after facing backlash from faculty and staff. But Hannah-Jones declined the tenure offer and instead joined the faculty at Howard University.

The settlement requires the university to train 20 UNC faculty and staff as search and selection advisors through the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; increase the number of trauma-informed therapists on staff; and allocating $5,000 per fiscal year to the Carolina Black Caucus, a group that advocates for black UNC faculty and staff. The settlement does not include an admission of liability for the parties involved.

Earlier this year, the American Association of University Teachers released a report outlining longstanding patterns of institutional racism in the UNC system. The report accuses Republican lawmakers of intervening in the university system by influencing the appointments of chancellors and closing university centers focused on fighting poverty, social injustice and pollution.

In response, Kimberly van Noort, senior vice president of academic affairs for the UNC system, called the report “discouraging.” “Over the past six years, we have reduced tuition fees for nearly all of our students, improved graduation rates for low-income and minority students, and made historic investments in growing and supporting communities. six institutions of our system, historically serving minorities,” she said in a letter. “We continue to recruit and support world-class faculty, and we secured substantial increases for faculty and staff in the last (bipartisan) state budget, as well as more than $2 billion in funding for capital assets for our campuses.”

Julia Clark, president of the Black Student Movement at UNC, said some black students don’t feel supported when it comes to support services and the tools needed to succeed in the classroom. She wants to see more black people appointed to work at the university’s Women’s Center and Office of Equal Opportunity Compliance to help resolve situations involving racial discrimination. CNN contacted UNC regarding Clark’s concerns about diversity in college offices and received no response.

Clark called Brown “brave” for suing and standing up for herself.

“We’re constantly challenged with having to be the voice of equity on campus and we don’t necessarily see that reflected in our administration or in our campus systems,” Clark said. “I hope (Brown’s lawsuit) will force both the administration and specifically the business school and other schools at this university to not only reflect how they treat their black students, but also what ‘they can do better.’


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