Loyola University’s president issues an apology; acknowledges racial bias complaints against a former professor

Loyola University president apologizes to community over racial bias

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Loyola University President Tania Tetlow issued an apology on Monday over the university’s response to racial bias complaints formally lodged by some students against Sonya Duhe’, PhD., the university’s former Director of the School of Communication and Design.

"Well, we apologized to the Loyola community for a situation that they had brought to our attention that we had not resolved properly which were some comments by Dr. Sonya Duhe', the former director of our School of Communications to students about appearance in broadcast journalism and what’s acceptable or not in ways that students really felt were hurtful and sort of rooted in racial bias that she wasn’t acknowledging or helping them process as they look at the obstacles in the way of their careers,” said Tetlow in an interview with FOX 8.

She had earlier tweeted, “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.”

Tetlow who has been at the helm of Loyola for two years also sent a lengthy letter to the Loyola community. In it she said, “This is a challenging moment for us, a moment for real humility as an institution.”

The letter also said complaints of racial bias against Duhe’ were raised by current and former students.

Tetlow elaborated on the intent of her letter during the TV interview.

"We are very proud at Loyola of having an incredibly diverse student body that reflects this country but we need to do more to make sure that the institution is not just diverse but equitable and inclusive and like every institution in this country we have more work to do,” she said.

Sonya Duhe, a former Director of the School of Communication and Design at Loyola University New Orleans.
Sonya Duhe, a former Director of the School of Communication and Design at Loyola University New Orleans. (Source: WVUE)

She said prior to the complaints becoming public many steps were already taken at the university in furtherance of more equity and inclusion.

"All the efforts we've made for mandatory training, for diversifying faculty and staff to better reflect those students, all of that work and the work and the planning that we have ahead but that this is a moment of humility for us and to know that we need to work ever faster,” said Tetlow.

Rose Wagner is Editor-in-Chief of the Loyola Maroon.

"This is the first time that the Loyola community has gotten a public apology regarding Duhe's conduct from any member of the university, so I do think that, that is something that students have been waiting for,” Wagner said.

Tetlow was asked if Loyola made it clear to ASU during the vetting process that there were complaints on record against Duhe’.

"We did participate in the vetting process and all I can say is we answered every question that they asked honestly,” said Tetlow. "What we can't do when we get a reference check is to tell them everything, we imagine they may want to know. We answer specific questions. I think anyone who's been asked for a reference knows how that works, so I think that they are looking at their vetting process to see if they should have done a better job of asking absolutely everything. We answered the questions we were asked, and we will always do that."

Wagner said the complaints came to light after Duhe’ tweeted last week expressing her sentiments about the death of George Floyd in Minnesota. Floyd, who is black, died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for at least eight minutes.

"And Sonya Duhe' sent out a tweet on her Twitter account talking about how she was sending prayers out to the family of George Floyd, she talked about what she referred to as good police officers,” said Wagner.

And Wagner said that prompted a graduate of Loyola to tweet about her alleged negative experiences with Duhe and the comments snowballed online.

"And then it quickly sort of spiraled into us realizing in this open Twitter conversation that this wasn't just one alumni coming forward with these allegations and it wasn't one lone claim by one student about their experience with this professor. It quickly became a very public conversation on Twitter by a lot of former students, specifically, students of color, female students raising similar concerns and similar allegations about Duhe',” Wagner said.

She said some students complained about having their hair touched by Duhe’.

"The one note that has been raised specifically and it also was raised in the human resources complaint that we got access to from these students was that they complained about Duhe' specifically making comments about their appearance as Black women, making comments about natural hair, showing kind of a repetitive and very singular view in class of what a news anchor should look like or what a broadcast journalist should look like,” said Wagner.

Tetlow says she did not know of the complaints. Some date back several years.

"It did not come across my desk, no,” Tetlow stated.

She would not discuss what resulted from the formal complaints to the university or the number of complaints that were related to Duhe’.

So, there's a world in which we would have a process for filing complaints against faculty or students that was entirely public where we would talk about those things publicly. We have made the decision like most institutions and universities certainly that having a private process is more likely to encourage students to report and to protect employees' rights, so it is not possible for me to publicly talk about the outcomes whichever way they are,” said Tetlow.

Arizona State University Executive Vice President and Provost Mark Searle issued the following statement:

“After a national search led by an excellent search committee, we had selected Dr. Sonya Duhé to lead the Cronkite School as Dean and as CEO of the KAET Public Television station. At the time we had high confidence we had selected the right person for the position. Subsequently, issues and concerns have arisen and additional information has come to light. I now find that the future of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and our public television station will be better served by not advancing with Dr. Duhé as their leader. I have advised Dr. Duhé of my decision and I wanted the members of the faculty, staff and students of the Cronkite School to know immediately that this has been done.

A week ago, President Crow called upon the ASU community to accelerate “the rate of enhanced social justice.” This development regarding the Cronkite Dean is most unfortunate but we now must turn our attention to meeting that challenge and ensuring we offer the highest level of journalism education. These are significant undertakings, but I am confident with commitment and effort the School can be the leader it aspires to be in all aspect of journalism education.

I will be appointing an interim dean this coming week and will announce that as soon as I have concluded that process.”

Duhe’ did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Copyright 2020 WVUE. All rights reserved.