OPINION: Racism, Sexism, Tokenism: My Experiences as a Woman of Color at University of Portland

By Anonymous | July 1, 2020 9:00am

Image courtesy of Jason Griffin.

Editor's note: It is not typically The Beacon's policy to grant anonymity to sources unless the source may face significant danger, retribution or harm from being named. We believe that in this case, publishing anonymously will bring awareness to the UP community, as well as protect the source.

This piece was originally published on Medium on June 30, 2020, as well as submitted to the Instagram account @blackatuniversityportland.

Dear UP community,

I am a woman of color in a leadership position at the University. I am not Black American. However, I stand with the Black community to say that unequivocally Black Lives Matter.

I provide this testimony based on my experiences at UP. I do this to support the Black and other students of color who have stepped forwards so courageously to speak about their experiences at UP. I want to thank the students at @blackatuniversityofportland for allowing me to share my experiences here.

People of color and women join the UP community as students, faculty, and staff because UP says the right things publicly — via vehicles such as UP’s marketing materials and University speeches, statements, and policies. It is my experience, as well, that there are many students, faculty, staff, alumni, leadership members, and Board of Regent members at UP who are committed to diversity, inclusion, and equity.

However, it also is my experience that much of the racism and sexism at UP happens behind closed doors at Waldschmidt. There is harmful racism and sexism — and deliberate unwillingness to address reported concerns — that occurs amongst UP’s leadership.

It has been emotionally and physically difficult for me to write about my experiences at UP. The racism, sexism, and retaliation I have experienced at UP has been pervasive and severe, and it has caused intense physical and emotional stress.

I have not shared identifying information such as names and position titles.

Below are many, but not all, situations that I have experienced at UP that do not reflect our community’s true values.

Failure to support and acknowledge our student athletes of color as human beings with the right to peacefully protest:

I was very moved when Colin Kaepernick started taking the knee to protest police brutality against Black Americans. The rights of athletes to peacefully protest is important because it is not right to treat athletes, including athletes of color, as only having entertainment value. Athletes are human beings, and we should recognize their inherent dignity, power, autonomy, and voice as human beings.

When student athletes at high schools and colleges started taking the knee in peaceful protest, a question was raised amongst UP leadership — that someone with power had expressed concern that UP’s student athletes might start taking the knee at UP’s athletic events. The answer I expected was this: that based on UP’s values, we would support our student athletes who chose to protest racism and injustice. However, this was not the answer I heard. Instead, the answer that was said by UP leadership was, “Oh, our student athletes would not do that.”

Expression of disgust about UP’s alumnus Megan Rapinoe:

The prior situation was not the only time I saw negativity towards a UP athlete for standing up against injustice. After the U.S Women’s Soccer Team won the World Cup, I was confused why UP didn’t hold a celebration on campus for Megan. When I mentioned Megan to a UP leader, his face contorted into an expression of disgust and he said something like, ”She’s shameful.” I did not say anything further to this person. It was deeply hurtful and unsettling to see his expression of disgust towards a distinguished UP alumnus who is a member of the LGBTQ+ community, a woman, and the first well-known athlete outside the NFL to start taking the knee in support of Colin Kaepernick.

Discriminatory comments about LGBTQ+ employee:

During a conversation, a UP senior leader spoke highly of an employee and how well the employee was carrying out their job duties. Then, this UP leader indicated that it would be difficult for this employee to be promoted into the next level position because this employee was in a same sex relationship.

Disrespectful and tokenizing treatment of persons and leaders of color:

On June 1, 2020, the administration sent an email to the UP community stating that UP stood against systemic racism. The prior evening, UP leadership had sent me a draft of the email and asked that I be a signatory to it. I asked that the email specifically say “Black Lives Matter.” After UP leadership refused, I said that I did not want to have my name on the email. The UP leader responded that when he sent me and others the draft email, the type of feedback that I was providing was not what he had been seeking. This reply felt like a physical slap to my face.

On June 12, 2020, the University sent out a second email that specifically said “Black Lives Matter” several times. I did not know anything about this email until I received it along with the rest of the UP community.

This situation was particularly painful in its hypocrisy. The email sent on June 1, 2020, spoke about UP leadership’s commitment to fighting systemic racism. Yet, UP’s leadership had tried to use my signature and identity as a woman of color as a stamp of approval for the email, while deliberately refusing to include my feedback in the actual content of the email. It was another painful experience of racism, sexism, tokenism, and hypocrisy at Waldschmidt.

Golden parachutes promised to white male leaders:

White male leaders have been promised “golden parachute” type deals. A golden parachute is an agreement that an employee will receive certain significant financial benefits at the end of employment. I have not seen similar arrangements for leaders who are persons of color or women. Also, because UP is a nonprofit, some golden parachute arrangements may violate IRS rules. The situation was also concerning because there was no indication that UP’s leadership had taken the arrangements to the Board of Regents for review and approval. I raised concerns about the golden parachutes to UP’s leadership but heard nothing in response.

UP’s inability to retain women and women of color in leadership positions:

The UP community has asked UP’s leadership for more diversity in leadership positions. However, I believe that racism and sexism at UP is repeatedly demonstrated by UP’s inability to retain women and women of color in leadership positions. Right after I started at UP, a woman in a high level leadership position left. A couple years ago, another woman in another high level leadership position left. About a year after that, a woman of color in another high level leadership position left. I have spoken to other women leaders who have said that they love UP but they have considered leaving because of how they are treated by other white male leaders. I myself have considered leaving UP many times.

Denigrating comments about women and women of color who left UP leadership positions:

It also has been difficult for me to hear denigrating comments about the women and women of color who have left UP leadership positions. I have heard white male leadership make denigrating comments about all three women leaders who left high level positions at UP the last couple of years. I also have heard white male leadership make denigrating comments about other women of color who left UP before I arrived at UP.

Filling high level leadership positions with white men, without doing open recruitments and searches:

The UP community has repeatedly criticized UP leadership for filling several high level leadership positions with white men, without doing open recruitments and searches. In response, UP leadership has said repeatedly that diversifying faculty, staff, and leadership positions is a goal of the University.

Recently, it was announced that a person in a powerful leadership position on campus was leaving. I specifically asked UP leadership to start an open recruitment for that position. I was provided no response.

Denigrating comments and laughter about female Board of Regent members:

I have been part of leadership meetings where male leaders have made denigrating type comments or jokes about Board members. Generally the laughter seems to be aimed towards certain female members of UP’s Board of Regents and the denigrating comments often are about the outspokenness of these female Board members.

Statements indicating that leadership does not value transparency with the Board of Regents:

After the sexist and racist Wally Awards incident in spring 2018, Board members were justifiably concerned. The Board indicated that they wanted to form a subcommittee to conduct a review related to that situation, in part to assess if there were systemic problems of sexism and racism at UP. The response to this by some UP leadership was to exclaim irritation with the Board.

In fall 2019, I experienced another situation of UP leadership trying to hide information from most of the Board. That semester, there were several student complaints about a significant policy violation by an employee that negatively affected female students. Administration engaged in appropriate steps and helped address the students’ concerns. As this situation was being wrapped up, a member of UP’s leadership group raised the question whether this situation should be shared with the Board. In response, UP leaders made statements indicating they did not want to share information with all Board members because some Board members might ask too many questions, i.e., ask if the situation was demonstrative of more systemic problems. The UP leaders decided that they would let certain Board members know — Board members that these UP leaders had particularly close relationships with. And if other Board members found out and asked why they had not been informed, UP leadership would respond that they had informed some Board members.

UP leadership engaged in retaliation towards me — by refusing to mitigate physical safety risks of my team and me — after I shared serious concerns with UP’s Board members:

During early spring 2020, I emailed a UP leader and two UP Board members about serious concerns I had about the treatment of a Black employee at UP.

The UP leader asked to speak to me about my email. He told me he was not pleased that I had included the Board members to my email. During my conversation with him, I told him the following, among other things:

  • That I had serious concerns about what I saw as another UP leader’s disrespectful and inappropriate conduct towards a Black employee, disrespectful and inappropriate conduct done via a very public vehicle.
  • That I had serious concerns about continuous sexist and hostile conduct by a male UP leader towards others and that UP leadership had not addressed the conduct even though it had been reported to leadership.
  • That I had serious concerns about UP leadership’s failure to provide female UP leaders with the types of resources and Board connections provided to male leaders.

Here, I note that I have heard multiple female employees refer to UP’s power structure as the “old boys’ club.” I also note that it is almost always the male UP leaders whose country club dues are paid for by UP and who go golfing and do breakfasts and lunches with Board members.

Three days after I shared concerns with the Board and two days after I shared concerns with the UP leader, I was informed that the UP leader had refused to take reasonable steps to mitigate physical safety risks faced by my team.

Specifically, my team had not had sufficient work space for almost two years, and the plan was to move my team to an isolated building in a corner of campus during spring 2020. However, a couple months before in December 2019, a colleague I work with closely at UP had been brutally physically assaulted by a former UP employee. After this occurred, I requested that as part of my team’s office move, we be allowed to keep two offices at Waldschmidt for walk-ins and other work with more physical safety risk. This made sense because UP leadership had assigned a campus safety officer at Waldschmidt after my colleague was physically assaulted.

Nonetheless, the UP leader refused to allow us to use two offices at Waldschmidt, that I had requested for physical safety. He did this knowing full well that:

  • Before fall 2019 and continuing into fall 2019, my team and I had handled multiple situations with significant physical safety concerns.
  • In October 2019, I had emailed him and then spoken to him about my concerns about the physical safety of my team and myself, and I had requested that UP hire a security consultant to review safety issues for offices like mine on campus that face greater physical safety risks. (UP leadership never hired this security consultant.)
  • As stated before, in December 2019, my colleague was brutally physically assaulted by a former UP employee.

When I spoke to the UP leader and asked that he reconsider his refusal to mitigate physical safety risks faced by my team, he basically responded with, “Why are you trying to double up on office space?” i.e., he tried to gaslight me by accusing me of being selfish and unreasonable. This was a deeply painful experience for me.

The sequence of events indicates that the UP leader denied my request for safe office space because he was unhappy with me for sharing serious concerns in the area of racism with Board members. The sequence of events also indicates that he denied my request for safe office space because he was unhappy with me after I told him that I had serious concerns about situations of racism and sexism by UP leadership. In summary, because I had spoken up, this UP leader punished me by trying to increase the physical safety risks faced by my teammates and me.

UP leadership engaged in more retaliation towards me after I shared additional serious concerns with UP Board members:

During spring 2020, I continued to share serious concerns with UP Board members. The following are the main concerns I shared with Board members:

  • That I had serious concerns about continuous sexist and hostile conduct by a male UP leader towards others and that UP leadership had not sufficiently addressed this conduct after it was reported to them.
  • That I had serious concerns about UP leadership’s failure to address physical safety issues at UP in a timely, sufficient, and coordinated manner.
  • That I had serious concerns that a UP leader and his area had not sufficiently protected the confidential and private personal information of UP community members, including the personal information of students, employees, alumni, Board members, and donors.

After I shared the aforesaid concerns with Board members, UP leaders engaged in further actions of retaliation towards me, including, but not limited to:

  • They continued to refuse to provide my team and me with safe and adequate work space.
  • They cut my team’s budget and staffing, even though my team’s workload had increased significantly due to the COVID pandemic and other regulatory deadlines coming up in August and October 2020.

Here, it is noted that UP leadership did not cut budget and staffing from other teams on campus. Indeed, at the same time when they cut a full staff position from my team, UP leadership approved a white male leader to hire a new position for his team at a salary amount significantly higher than what was budgeted for that position.

Moreover, UP leadership engaged in this retaliation of cutting my team’s budget and staffing one week after I sent an email to UP’s leadership about UP’s failure to include women and people of color in budget and other resource allocation decisions.

A UP leader made statements indicating that he would retaliate against students who had reported significant legitimate concerns, and his supervisor heard these statements and said nothing:

In fall 2019, there were student complaints about a significant policy violation by an employee that affected female students. Administration engaged in appropriate steps and addressed the students’ concerns. During a discussion about next steps, the leader of the area indicated that he would engage in retaliatory action towards several of the students who reported the concerns. This leader kept referring to these students as “bad.” Another person and I told this leader that what he was saying sounded like retaliation and that retaliation was wrong and prohibited. This leader responded by saying that he would take action to hide the retaliation. We responded that such action would still be retaliation and was not okay. During this entire exchange, the senior leader in the room, who was the leader’s supervisor, did not say anything indicating that retaliation was wrong and prohibited. This senior leader’s silence about retaliation was concerning because it seemed to be tacit support for his supervisee’s stated intent to retaliate against the students.

With this leader, I had a similar experience in another matter. During fall 2019, a male student of color had come forward with concerns that an employee was physically aggressive with him, and information gathered indicated that the student’s concerns were legitimate. In my opinion, the leader addressed the concerns with what seemed like a slap on the hand for the employee who engaged in the physically aggressive conduct. What also concerned me is that this leader kept referring to the student of color as a “bad” kid or “bad” person. This situation made me concerned that this leader had retaliatory bias towards this student of color because the student had reported a legitimate and serious complaint about an employee.

UP senior leadership failed to do the right thing behind closed doors and then called ethical action “insubordination”:

During fall 2019, I was involved in a situation involving the physical safety of a student at UP. The situation was extremely serious. The University learned that the student may have been a witness to a serious situation that happened on campus, information the parents did not have. I felt that it was important to provide this information to the family so they could help their child. However, a Portland city entity asked UP to not share the information with the family, and UP administration acquiesced to the Portland city entity. I did not think the Portland city entity’s request had legal or ethical standing.

The situation involving the student remained extremely serious, and it increasingly appeared that the Portland city entity was not acting in the best interests of the student or family. So, I told UP’s leadership that I would share the information with the family, regardless of the consequences to my employment with UP. This forced UP’s leadership to take the matter to UP’s Board. The Board members agreed that UP should share the information with the family. So, the information was shared.

A couple months later, a UP leader brought up this situation during a meeting with me. The UP leader repeatedly told me that I had been insubordinate to him — when I said that I would tell the family the information about their child if UP did not do so. I replied several times that if it was a choice between keeping my job and doing the right thing, I would always choose to do the right thing.

Failure to address or apologize for unprofessional racial targeting:

A UP colleague, a person of color in a leadership position, and I went to lunch. My colleague graciously drove. After we arrived back on campus and my colleague parked in their designated parking space, we got out of the car and continued talking to each other. As we approached the entrance to our building, a white employee told my colleague that the parking space was for UP employees only. I was so taken aback by the encounter that my brain did not register what was happening until my colleague responded to the white employee that my colleague worked at UP and that the parking space had been assigned to my colleague.

When this situation happened, I had been working at UP for several years, in a visible leadership position. Also, when this situation happened, my colleague and I were talking to each other, and I was wearing my UP identification card and UP key on two purple lanyards around my neck. Moreover, my colleague was wearing a suit, and I was wearing a nice sweater and skirt. If this white employee had even taken a moment before challenging my colleague about the parking space, the employee would have observed a lot of information indicating that my colleague and I were employees at UP.

After this situation happened, I raised my concerns about the situation to the employee’s supervisor and other leadership, including senior leadership. However, I don’t know if or how the situation was addressed because no one followed up with me.

UP leadership specifically directed that diversity, inclusion, and equity training not be done during staff professional development day in 2019:

After the UP community expressed concerns about the racist and sexist conduct at the Wally Award’s incident in spring 2018, UP’s leadership indicated willingness for more training and education in the area of diversity, inclusion, and equity. So, in fall 2018, UP started a mandatory professional development day for staff, and we focused that day on diversity, inclusion, and equity.

The keynote speaker we brought in for the event was Julie Lythcott-Haims, a published author of two books and a former administrator at Stanford. As keynote speaker, Julie spoke about growing up Black and biracial in white spaces and the toll that racism, discrimination, and microaggressions took on her. She was a powerful speaker.

For the afternoon session, we brought in Barbara Diamond to do implicit bias and anti-bias training. During the training, Barbara used films that she had developed to help viewers learn about and examine the biases and assumptions that harm and oppress people of color, women, those with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ community members.

Apparently, UP leadership did not think much of Julie Lythcott-Haims and Barbara Diamond. The next year 2019, when we started to prepare for professional development day for staff, we were specifically told to not include speakers and training in the area of diversity, inclusion and equity.

Failure to address persistent bullying conduct by white male leader:

There is a white male person in a leadership position who has engaged in continued bullying conduct towards others at UP. It is an open secret. I have experienced this person engaging in dismissive or denigrating comments, body language, and “jokes” towards multiple individuals at UP. From what I observed, this conduct appeared to be more frequently aimed at UP leaders who are women, persons of color, or members of the LGBTQ+ community. UP leadership was aware of this conduct because it was reported to them several years ago, and because there were times when this conduct happened in UP leadership meetings.

For a long time, I tried my best to not do anything to make this person unhappy with me. This person occupies a position with significant power on campus, and it would have been very challenging for me to be effective in my job duties if I had a difficult working relationship with him. I have seen other leaders on campus also act in ways to not upset this person or to appease this person because of the significance of this person’s power.

In the 2019–2020 academic year, certain situations occurred and I felt that I was destroying my integrity by not calling out this person’s bullying conduct. I reported my concerns to UP leadership and the Board, and I asked for an investigation. No investigation was done that I know of.

I also stopped trying to maintain a working relationship with this person via my prior tactic of appeasement. This increasingly resulted in this person targeting me with dismissive and denigrating “jokes.” So, in spring 2020, I called this person out in an email to many persons in UP leadership positions because they had all seen his denigrating conduct and said nothing. This was one of the emails I sent to the leadership group:

"Hi ____,

Thank you for your response.

Even if your comment was not meant in a joking way, I don’t know why other(s) laughed. It appeared to me that [the senior leader] and other(s) laughed.

I want to share with you that I had a similar experience during the last meeting held by the Search Committee for ______.

During that meeting — which both of us participated in via conference call — you said at one point, “This isn’t ____.” People laughed. I believe one of the folks who laughed in response to that comment was [a senior leader]. Admittedly, I did contribute a lot of feedback and thoughts during that meeting. However, I think my level of contributions were at an appropriate level, considering that I am the _______and have the most technical experience and knowledge related to ________ at the University.

I didn’t understand the reason for your comment, “This isn’t ____.” You don’t sound like me at all. You could have said, “This is [your name].” So, a reasonable interpretation of your comment was this: look at ____, she is speaking so much, isn’t she speaking a lot? And in response to your comment, people in that room laughed.

As well, I heard that at the last ____ meeting, you introduced a speaker, who was female, and in your introductory remarks referred to her as “smarty pants.”

____, women and people of color have to continuously gauge how they speak, when they speak, how much they speak, how much emotion they show or don’t show, etc. etc. This is because we know that the stereotypes about our communities can work against us — and can affect our effectiveness in our jobs. So, as a woman of color, I have to continuously gauge if I am speaking or acting in a way so that I will be interpreted as “bossy,” “a shrew,” “emotional,” etc. etc. Most people know that if your coworkers don’t like you or shut you out, it is harder to be effective in your job.

I appreciate your response to me, and please know, originally my intent was to email just you and [the senior leader].

However, I am including the entire [leadership group] because I do think there is a level of dysfunction amongst the [leadership group]. I think some of this dysfunction relates to [this leadership group’s] members not speaking up about difficult topics, not engaging in more difficult conversations — because we are trying to be “collegial.” I myself would prefer more transparency with each other and more direct conversations versus a false collegiality — particularly on important topics such as what respect and inclusion really means, as well as physical safety (about which I’ve been emailing the entire leadership group the past several weeks).

Thank you,


After I sent this email, nothing was done to address my concerns. There was no discussion amongst the leadership group, no investigation, no training. Nothing. Indeed, most of the leadership group who received the email said nothing to me.

The person who engaged in the bullying conduct appeared to be on his best behavior for about two months. Then, during another leadership group meeting, he made a dismissive comment towards a woman leader on campus who was not at that meeting. Again, multiple people laughed in response. This time, I interjected during the conference call and told them to stop laughing at the expense of the woman leader. Again, after this happened, there was no discussion amongst the group. No action. Nothing.

UPDATE 3:44 P.M. July 2, 2020: UP Board of Regents announces independent investigation in response to allegations of systemic racism and sexism at UP.

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