Racial Tension Rises at Barry

A university employee says he was treated unfairly. A history of complaints lends credence.

(Fernandez, who later filed a lawsuit defending himself, stated "at no time was the race of the students mentioned." The case is still open.)

At the time, an article in the Buccaneer stated, "Students and faculty believed [manipulation of the photo] to be racially motivated." The paper also reported a student named Nicole Rangle claimed she had been threatened by administration for "orchestrating a protest."

Meghan Walles, who is white, was one of the journalists for the Buccaneer at the time. Instead of addressing the problem, she says, Barry leadership tried to keep things hush-hush. "When you look at a Barry brochure, they are trying to personify peaceful diversity," says the recent graduate. "They're really good at hiding stuff."

Oswald Jones was fired after reporting a hate crime.
C. Stiles
Oswald Jones was fired after reporting a hate crime.

There were also complaints by school employees. Travis West, who worked as a security guard on campus for three years beginning in 2004, says his experience at Barry was difficult emotionally and professionally. "White supervisors always had less experience," he says, and claims his boss once called African-American employees "monkeys" over a radio. He says he was fired two days after he reported racial slurs.

Other times, it was more subtle. Says 15-year employee Carmen Haybieng, who resigned in 2008: "A nun looked at me once and asked, 'Do you people get suntans?'"

Adds five-year security guard Rodney Brantley, who was fired: "Barry doesn't like black people."

The Miami-Dade Equal Opportunity Board has also received racial discrimination complaints against the university. In January 2007, Barry employee Edda Pierre-Paul filed a complaint — though the EOB couldn't provide it despite repeated requests for information over two weeks. This past December, Lindel Thomas, an outgoing Jamaican-born field supervisor of public safety at Barry, claimed his boss "made fun of my accent, said he couldn't understand me, and acted like I was stupid." Thomas was terminated days after reporting it. He claims it was retaliation. (The case was dismissed for lack of evidence.)

"Barry tramples people's rights and steps on minorities," he later told New Times. "But they're hard to beat [in court.]"

The case of Oswald Jones — the technician who discovered the noose in his quarters — is perhaps the most striking. Jones attended Barry as a student after emigrating from Jamaica in 1979. He says he was drawn to the university because of an offer to help pay for his family's education. He worked there 11 years, earned three awards for his performance, and has a stack of recommendation letters from Barry professors.

After he discovered the noose, though, things changed. He claims that at the same shop three days later, he found a white sheet propped up on an air-conditioning unit, which he believes was meant to resemble a KKK hood and that it was a message for him to keep quiet. Ten days later, he was fired. A review of documentation provided by Jones raises questions about the firing. A notice of termination signed by maintenance manager Neil Stewart states Jones was let go because he "stormed into the shop" and said "there is no justice here." It concludes, "No one is sure why he mentioned it, but they are taken aback by the comments." The document also shows supervisors cited "unexcused absences" on days that schedules show Jones wasn't supposed to work. All "violations" noted on the document were recorded after October 23, 2007 — the day he reported the noose. "I did what I've always done," he says. "And all of a sudden, it's a problem."

These days, the number of black employees in positions of power is small. Less than 6 percent of Barry professors are black, according to statistics provided by the university. A school spokesperson says about 13 percent of non-faculty employees in leadership roles are black. And there is no record of the school ever hiring a black head of a department.

Though other institutions, such as the University of Miami, have been criticized on racial grounds by former employees, the number of complaints against Barry in federal court and with the EOB is disproportionately high, considering the tiny size of the student body.

Last week, outside the campus cafeteria, students told New Times they believed the problem is worse among employees than students. They blamed Barry administration more for covering up than committing acts of prejudice. Said 22-year-old nursing major Mariela Echavarria: "There are definitely race-based cliques... But I don't think color matters to students."

Dr. Evelyn Cartwright, director of African studies, has worked at the university nine years. She says security guards and maintenance workers such as Jones likely aren't treated with the same racial and ethnic sensitivity as professors. Told about Jones's case, Cartwright said simply: "It's very disturbing."

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