San Diego’s Southwestern College accused of institutional racism against black employees

Frank S. Clowney III

Back in 2018, a shocking report from the University of Southern California uncovered what its authors called “a palpable climate of anti-Blackness at Southwestern College,” the community college located in San Diego County. The USC report document numerous incidents of discrimination against black employees by coworkers and managers that the report said revealed an institutional-wide bias.

Since the USC report came out, Southwestern College says it has taken steps to make itself a more inclusive and welcoming place for black people to work. But an employment discrimination lawsuit against the school states that little, if anything, has changed.

Allegations in the lawsuit

The lawsuit was filed by a group of current and former Southwestern employees. One of the plaintiffs alleges she was passed over for the job of acting dean of the counseling department in 2018, despite her 20 years of experience and being the most qualified candidate. She believes the fact she is black was the reason the college did not promote her. Meanwhile, the man who got the job has allegedly told colleagues that he feels afraid when in meetings with black men.

Another plaintiff alleges that tensions between black and non-black employees were very high in the counseling department where he also worked. He was the only black member of the department to attend a retreat in January, where a colleague denied racism against black people on campus. The plaintiff says he referred to the USC report but that nobody else at the retreat seemed to believe the report’s findings.

A third plaintiff was part of a task force whose mission was to confront racism on campus. But another task force member accused the plaintiff and another colleague of “colluding” with the authors of the USC report. Her evidence was that the men had “connections” with USC and were black, according to the lawsuit. In another incident, the same employee told the rest of the task force that she, as a non-black person, could say the N-word without offending anybody.

Is discrimination still a problem at Southwestern?

It is important to note that some of these incidents happened in 2020, months after the USC report. Assuming these allegations are accurate, they suggest that Southwestern’s stated goal of eliminating employee bias against its black workforce has not succeeded yet. Or the lawsuit could mean that the school is not taking the problem seriously.