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In Response to “A Seat in the Honors Academy”

Re:  “A Seat in the Honors Academy,” Jesi Taylor, The Excelsior, May 17, 2017

Dear President Anderson,

I write to applaud Jesi Taylor’s courage in coming forward with an article on the discriminatory treatment received by students at Brooklyn College’s Honors Academy.  I worked as a Senior Academic Advisor for the Macaulay Honors College at Brooklyn College from August 2011 to November 2015, until I was forcibly removed from my office by five security guards and Associate Provost Terrence Cheng (no longer employed by BC).  My removal came after I filed a discrimination complaint with Brooklyn College’s Office of Diversity and Equity Programs against the treatment colleagues, students, and I received at the Honors Academy.

My complaint was treated with disdain and dismissal.  One reason was that I was not a Brooklyn College employee; subsequently, BC’s Office of Diversity and Equity Programs could not represent me, although CUNY policy states that complaints need to be filed at the campus in which they occur.  My BC colleagues also expressed fear at being named in my discrimination complaint, citing the retaliation that would follow if they do.  For my own part, since August 2015 when I filed my complaint, I was increasingly characterized as mentally unstable by then Director of MHC at BC Tammy Lewis and BC Honors Academy Director Lisa Schwebel despite “exceeds expectations” employment evaluations for four years.

A student who attempted to speak to BC Honors Academy and MHC administrators about my forced removal from BC’s campus e-mailed me with her November 2015 experience (I blocked out the name of the BC administrator).

“Dr. XXX called me into her office last week to give me a well-intentioned lesson on being careful and not going over people’s heads,” the student said in her email. “The situation was not a big deal, but she said someone someday would have something I wanted and I would never get it and won’t ever be told why, if I didn’t learn this lesson. It’s political and about pride and power and asserting that power, instead of substance. It reminded me how silly all of this is and how I hate the system and have no desire to live within it. Also, this is happening within an educational system. We would do well—and apparently need—to remind ourselves that this is about students and education, not petty politics.”

Surely Brooklyn College’s Honors Academy can exemplify values of respect and inclusion instead of resorting to veiled threats and force when greeted with inquiry or critique.  I read “A Seat in the Honors Academy” with an all too familiar reflection of “this is what happens when we do nothing.”

Thank you for your consideration,

Cheryl N. Olivieri
former Senior Academic Advisor, MHC at BC
August 2011—November 2015

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  1. Michelle J. Anderson

    Ms. Taylor’s allegation that the Honors Academy is a “hostile and exclusionary environment” is deeply troubling. I am committed to building an inclusive academic community across all sectors of the College, one that prepares students for life in an increasingly diverse society. I want to assure everyone that the College will investigate the charges Taylor makes and take corrective action where appropriate.

    Although Ms. Olivieri’s time at Brooklyn College preceded me, I understand that in April 2016 she filed a related discrimination complaint with the New York City Commission on Human Rights. On October 25, 2016, after a full investigation, the Commission dismissed the complaint as without merit.

    We take our legal and ethical obligations to provide a non-discriminatory educational setting and a non-discriminatory workplace seriously.

    Yours Sincerely,

    Michelle J. Anderson
    President, Brooklyn College

    • Cheryl N Olivieri

      Dear President Anderson,

      I am sorry I did not receive and reply to your response sooner. I hope you receive my late 2017 August correspondence via this post and to an e-mail to your office, and to please not dismiss my complaint as something forgotten as discrimination exists through silence.

      Yes, the NYC Commission on Human Rights (a free service), did dismiss my 2016 April complaint (BUT!) with recommendation that I follow-up with a civil suit, which I chose not to pursue since it already took a year of my life experiencing and reading through the most vile depictions of my character–and for filing one complaint over a trajectory encompassing a 6-year “exemplary” review of my performance at MHC, as a 1-year history department adjunct at BC who received stellar faculty and student reviews and as an undergraduate BC alumni who graduated Summa Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa and Mellon Fellow.

      The reason the commission dismissed my complaint is that, to my understanding, they don’t address personal disputes, but rather systematic grievances. When CUNY Legal became involved in investigating my commission complaint, they disavowed requested individual testimonies by a number of key personnel in favor of defending them and stymied the commission from proceeding with their own, impartial, investigation. Subsequently, my discriminatory complaint against BC procedures and policies became my personal vendetta against a particular, and low-level, colleague and a categorization of myself as needing mental-health counseling.

      The NYC Commission on Human Rights explicitly informed me that unless personnel are evaluated by a certified mental health professional, cognitive dispositions of any employee are inadmissible in a court of law and should not be part of any speculative HR relations. Concurrently, my PSC union representative informed me that it is common CUNY policy to denigrate a person who dares submit a complaint. Objectively, I would have pursued a civil suit against BC/CUNY if it did not entail changing my systematic complaint, since my concern has always been about student and staff experiences, to an individual suit that was becoming more about defamation than discrimination.

      Please do not add to injury with your ill-informed reply that chooses to propagate oppression rather than question administrative policies that lead to social justice violations. Your office has also long-held my personal contact information, so there never was any need to continue discussions of student and staff discriminatory experiences through an official complaint, posited civil or commission suits, online forums or deference to taking seriously “legal and ethical obligations to provide a non-discriminatory educational setting and a non-discriminatory workplace,” Cheryl N. Olivieri

  2. Jonathan Hanon

    As a Freshman, I was admitted under the Engineering Honors Program. However, Lisa Schwebel told me I had no business being in the Honors Academy because I was simply an “engineering student” and to get out, immediately.

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