By: Melissa Boyd (Whetstone Staff Writer)
Dean of Students Mary Alice Ozechoski and Director of Student Activities Sarah Smith resigned from the college Sept. 10.
College administrators would not comment on the reasons for their resignations, citing confidential personnel matters.
“Mary Alice and Sarah resigned,” said Alan Russell, interim vice president for finance. “These are personnel matters and therefore, I can’t discuss them. I hope most people would agree that the relationship between Wesley and any employee – faculty, staff or student – should not be discussed publicly.”
Both former Wesley employees did not respond to request for comment, however, both made public Facebook posts on Sept. 11 regarding their departure from Wesley.
Ozechoski’s status stated, “Thank you Wesley students/staff. I have loved being a part of your lives. Remember PC is personally caring.” The status had seven likes and six comments.
Smith’s status said, “I am so thankful for all of the students, faculty and staff at Wesley. Every one of you has touched my life in some way and I am thankful for it. Good luck with the upcoming semester and whatever life’s journey may bring you J.”
The status has 67 likes and one comment.
While the resignations have not been officially explained, they come a week after a student employee reported her complaint to President William Johnston, alleging racial insensitivity in the Office of Student Life.
Senior Bianca Bailey, a reporter on The Whetstone staff and resident assistant, said she made the complaints and contacted Smith via email to address these issues.
“I said that some of the students didn’t feel comfortable, but that we were afraid to say anything because we were afraid to lose our jobs,” Bailey said. “She [Smith] replied to the email, apologizing, and I asked her if we could meet about it and she said OK. I emailed her back, but she never responded as to when the meeting could be.”
Bailey said while she was emailing back and forth with Smith, she wrote an article about how to deal with racism in colleges today for www.examiner.com.
The article stated, “Quietly deal with the non-believers. Racism still exists. It is very prevalent in the school that I attend, so I have learned how to shut down the doubters. It is as simple as proving them wrong.”
Bailey said a fellow staff member told her that the Student Life Office felt the examiner.com article was misrepresenting the school, which could be grounds for termination from being a Residents Assistant.
“I was told that I should write a reiteration email, explaining what I meant,” Bailey said. “I felt as though I was being told to apologize or change my stance, but it was the truth. So when I wrote the reiteration, I told them that I did in fact love it at Wesley, but that I had experienced racism here. I also said that it bothered me that they didn’t seem to care about the racism or get down to the means to it, like why I felt that way.”
In the reiteration, Bailey said she had overheard offensive comments including: the use of the term “CP time” (colored-people time), comments on complexion or hair of only black students, the denial of a Divine Nine organizations on campus because “black students were all on Pell Grants and could not afford the Divine Nine dues,” as well as other examples.
After several times talking or emailing with Smith about her complaints, Bailey went to Johnston, who directed her to Russell for an investigation and then involved lawyers.
“For an entire week, I had walked around telling all of the administration my story,” Bailey said. “I missed classes because I was having meetings and typing up claims for previous alumni. I was still afraid that nothing would happen and I would lose my job, and I don’t want to quit being an R.A.”
Johnston would not discuss specific complaints but did address racism generally.
“Racism is an unfortunate and painful reality of life in the U.S. and on campuses everywhere,” he said. “I suspect Wesley is not immune. Even so, racial problems, regardless of where they arise, cannot and will not be ignored or tolerated. The Office of Student Life is a focal point of contact between students and the college so issues of race undoubtedly come up. Commenting on anything specific about Mary Alice, Sarah or anyone else would be either a personnel matter or covered by FERPA.”
FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, is a Federal law that prohibits educational institutions that receive federal funding from disclosing most records where students are identified.
However, other non-white students have said they have never experienced racism in the Student Life Office by any of the student workers or full-time employees.
“As for the racism issue in the office, I have never experienced it,” said sophomore Laura Vargas. “Mary Alice and Sarah Smith knew I did my job and did it well and spoke to me, assigning me tasks and not racially discriminating against me.”
Vargas said that she had always felt the environment in the Student Life Office was positive.
“As a former student assistant to the Student Life Office, the office was always happy, especially when we found out about Amanda Kinkade’s pregnancy,” she said. “You could always hear Sarah laughing and Mary Alice was pleasant even in stressful situations.”
Johnston said that although he is confident in Di Raddo’s abilities to fulfill this position at Wesley, students should remember the impact the Ozechoski and Smith made on Wesley.
“They’ve done great things for Wesley and I would hope people would thank them for all that they’ve done,” he said.