CUNY Dean Resigns: “my resignation was a profound act of self-preservation”

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The dean of City College’s architecture school, Lesley Lokko, has resigned as dean after less than a year for “crippling workload” and racism, the New York Post reported. 

Lokko resigned as dean of the Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture at City College after being appointed in June 2019. She explained to the Architectural Record, “My decision to leave Spitzer after less than a year is fairly straightforward: I was not able to build enough support to be able to deliver on either my promise of change or my vision of it.”

The Architectural Record reported that Lokko saw a lack of respect and empathy for Black people. “No job is worth one’s life and at times I genuinely feared for my own,” Lokko said. “Race is never far from the surface of any situation in the U.S. Having come directly from South Africa, I was not prepared for the way it manifests in the U.S. and quite simply, I lacked the tools to both process and deflect it.”

“The lack of respect and empathy for Black people, especially Black women, caught me off guard, although it is by no means unique to Spitzer. I suppose I would say in the end that my resignation was a profound act of self-preservation,” Lokko explained. 

Our very own Norka Blackman-Richards is the director of SEEK, a program to help African American, Latino, working-class and immigrant students by supporting them in college studies, has told The Knight News that she’s sat with Black women in the following weeks of Lokko’s resignation. “The general consensus, sadly, was how well we could relate to the reason behind her stance,” Blackman said. “The commonality of finding ourselves at the crossroads of wondering if our professional gains were worth the sacrifice. That we all had considered leaving our jobs to preserve our ‘selves’ at some point.”

Blackman made it clear that as a Black woman, she can relate to how Lokko may get tired of an environment that makes it harder to do a job they love. “In fact, it is not unusual for Black women to be working in and or leading areas that are perpetually underfunded, and understaffed. We also deal with the routine professional micro-aggressions of having our contributions overlooked or diminished.”

However, this wasn’t the first time race has become an issue among the administration at the school. Back in June 2018, Michele Baptiste, the college’s diversity dean who is black, said she became the third administrator to be fired by Vincent Boudreau, the school’s president, in recent months. One of those let go was black and the other Hispanic.

“We would have been thrilled had she been able to see these changes through to their completion, but have accepted her resignation with deep regret,” Boudreau said in a statement. 

Our educators of color must not go unnoticed and underappreciated, we can’t let another Lesley Lokko have to choose between respect and pursuing a career. “We work within systems that do not know how to support loyalty,” Blackman said. “Systems that are created to compensate people (many times under-compensate women of color) for hours of work, but will consistently overlook brilliance.”

“A system that is still performative in its address of inequity.  A system that is sadly still steeped in supremacy ideals in a climate that is steadily demanding that these be overturned.”

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