LBS Alerts

Why you shouldn’t send your Black and Brown children to Towson University

Towson Debaters

Members of the Towson Univ. Debate Team (L-R: Lenny Herrera, Korey Johnson, Ameena Ruffin, Kevin Whitley)

The Towson University Debate Team has a storied history of national success using an emphasis on racial and social justice. This was launched by a national championship in 2008 that helped to propel a historically elite, white activity into ongoing and rigorous conversations about the legacy of white supremacy in society. The most recent generation of Towson debaters have committed themselves to extending this legacy but have faced life altering challenges from the university itself.

Throughout the 2012-2013 academic year, Korey Johnson, Ameena Ruffin, Kevin Whitley and Lenny Herrera were all

Stephen Davis

Stephen Davis

confronted with inappropriate behavior that at times endangered their physical safety and security. They were confronted with this behavior by Stephen Davis who, at the time, was Director of Debate for Towson University. Among other violent acts, Stephen Davis engaged in sexual harassment, verbal abuse, and sometimes physical abuse. He even threw a tub (25 pound box) at one of the debaters (refer to the threat report filed with the university for all the incidents that occurred).

The students reported Davis’ behavior several times, but each time Davis’ wife and boss, Jennifer Potter, stood in the way of any solution. Rather than assist the students, Potter ignored the students concerns and sometimes threatened to revoke their scholarships or to kick them off the team for speaking out. When we heard of these incidents, members of Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle (LBS) attempted to become more involved (since many of us are alumni of the program). When we did so, however, we were told directly by Ms. Potter that the Communication Department Chair, Cynthia Cooper, said that “volunteers were not allowed to assist with the team”. When the students attempted to take their concerns to Ms. Cooper, they were told to take their concerns to Ms. Potter.

During the end of Summer 2013, the students began to take official steps to address the situation with the Provost’s Office. This action culminated in the removal of Stephen Davis from the debate team and a promise from the administration that they should not fear retaliation as a result of their bringing of formal charges against Davis.

One of the most troubling outcomes, however, has been that Jennifer Potter remains the Director of Forensics. This means that she still controls the debate careers of the students who effectively brought the charges that caused her husband to be fired. Ironically, students were told that there was substantially less money in the budget for the team this year. This means that they will not be able to go to all to the tournaments that are crucial to their competitive success. In the face of this, students showed the initiative, and fundraised money to go the Harvard’s national tournament, which is an extremely pivotal tournament of the year.

 

After the students raised the money to go to Harvard’s tournament, they were told by Jennifer Potter that “the coaches have always decided where students go and we’ve decided not to send students to Harvard”. There was no justification for no allowing students to go to such an important tournament that they had succeeded in raising the funds to attend. According to the students, Ms. Potter insinuated that their levying of charges against her husband is the reason why they were not going to Harvard.

Jennifer Potter

Jennifer Potter

It should never be acceptable for the safety, security and general well-being of the students to be compromised in an environment that professes to produce future leaders of the world. Towson University, a school that calls itself a “metropolitan university”, merely uses the mantra of “diversity” to perpetuate its facade. These students help Towson gain resources but the university has demonstrated no long-term focus on committing itself to ensuring that these students actually have good experiences.

It leads us to wonder if the debaters (who are all students of color) would have been treated this way if they were white. Not only that, but the university’s response to this issue has been insulting, negligent and inappropriate. The highest levels of the university (including the President, Provost and Dean of Fine Arts and Communication) have been informed and have largely done nothing substantive to assist the students.

The university has shown a complete disregard for the level of competitive success that they’ve had. In Towson’s recent Alumni magazine, they fail to even mention any of the past debaters by name who trail blazed the success of the team. The only conclusion we can draw is that their lack of commitment to the team is based in the institution’s racist attitude. In LBS, several of us are alumni of the program and the university has never reached out to us to support the team, which leads us to further believe that the university harbors racist attitudes towards the program.

These debaters are in constant fear of retaliation and are unclear of their debate careers at Towson. In light of these issues, we stand in solidarity with the current debaters at Towson, and offer the following demands on their behalf:

UPDATE: The Towson Debate team was given permission by the Towson administration where they did exceptionally well. Both teams concluded the tournament with respectable 5-3 records. 

  • We DEMAND that these students be allowed to attend Harvard’s national tournament this weekend (October 25 to 28).

  • They have raised sufficient funds to attend the tournament (over $3,000).

  • The only barrier to their participation is permission from the university to do so.

UPDATE: LBS is actively working with the Towson University administration to ensure the safety and well being of the students. 

  • We DEMAND that Jennifer Potter be fired.

    • Ms. Potter has shown nothing but contempt and aggression towards the debaters since the firing of her husband.

    • Since she has also engaged in inappropriate behavior with the students, she is barred from interacting with the students. This means she is allowed to make decisions about the team without any accountability to the students.

 

  • We DEMAND that Cynthia Cooper be fired.

    Cynthia Cooper

    Cynthia Cooper

    • Ms. Cooper has gotten several serious complaints from the students about Ms. Potter and Mr. Davis’ behavior in the previous academic years. It is our belief that she has failed to share these experiences with her superiors which has led to ineffective responses from the university.

    • She has been complicit in the harsh and unjust treatment of the Towson University debaters and has consistently proven herself to be an incompetent administrator of the Towson University Debate Team.

Dayvon Love

Dayvon Love

Dayvon Love is Director of Research and Public Policy for LBS. Dayvon is a resident of Northwest Baltimore City and graduate of Towson University majoring in African and African American Studies. This was the first time in history that an all black team won the tournament. Dayvon has a lot of experience with grassroots activism in the Baltimore community. He has given numerous speeches and led workshops around Baltimore to give insight into the plight of the masses of Baltimore citizens. He currently teaches at Connexions High School in West Baltimor

  

36 Comments on Why you shouldn’t send your Black and Brown children to Towson University

  1. SIMONE WHITE // October 24, 2013 at 4:11 am // Reply

    CALL TO ACTION! LETS FLOOD HER E-MAIL! LETS FLOOD HER VOICEMAIL! LETS SPEAK TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE SCHOOL! LETS GET THIS TEAM TO HARVARD!

  2. this is the biggest joke of an article. go cry some more and take this whole world a little more seriously. if you had any spine, you would be DOING something about it instead of WRITING something about it. Actions speak louder than words, and all i see here is a blatant attempt to tarnish my schools reputation. Perhaps you even planned this to be right after the whole ‘white power’ campus group ordeal to try and bolster your hysterical claims. the fact remains that you only present one side to a much bigger story, and whether or not your claims are true, you just look like a bigot. its funny how an issue about funding turns into a race war just because the debate team includes minorities…., can you please stop playing the race card, its sort of like the boy who cried wolf, it gets old and loses its effect. in fact much of the university has been undergoing funding issue, ill reference the men’s baseball team here, among others. SO to try and say the university is racist because the debate team didnt get the funding to go to some stupid debate at Harvard, is baseless and a preposterous attempt to call the school racist.

  3. The Baltimoron // October 24, 2013 at 6:04 am // Reply

    Why are you playing the race card here? It completely undermines your credibility and degrades any sympathy many would have for you otherwise.

  4. Sylvia Jones // October 24, 2013 at 7:40 am // Reply

    This is a shame! I hope that the decision to not let them debate at Harvard this weekend is overruled and hopefully they can go on to win. They have raised their OWN funds to do so! I pray for these students safety and success as debaters…

  5. Colter Heirigs // October 24, 2013 at 9:00 am // Reply

    I hope that the LBS also makes the demand to keep the debate alive and thriving at Towson!

  6. Steve Towson // October 24, 2013 at 11:49 am // Reply

    Video record any and everything and then put it on YouTube.com Post your links EVERYWHERE!!! ASAP. You can get communication students to help you or use your mobile devices. Phones, Tablets anything.

  7. Is this not the same school with a White Student Union, or at least fighting to have one?

  8. Please can we get this article to the Huffington Post? Everyone must see this!!!

  9. I’m not defending what happened and I’ll start off by saying that what happened with Mrs. Potter was and is still an issue, but this article jumps straight to a racial bias towards the club based entirely on assumptions of one’s character or motives. It seems Mrs. Potter was acting in her own self interests and protecting her husband and then spiteful when he was fired. Yes, this should be addressed, but I don’t see anything specifically racist about this. Jumping to the conclusion that racism is the dominant factor is one of the biggest issues with racism today. These types of articles just propel the issue further into the 21st century. This was an isolated incident which stemmed from a single person being mean towards a team of debaters. If Stephen Davis had been black, this article would never have been written.

  10. Towson University // October 24, 2013 at 8:27 pm // Reply

    Towson University has issued a statement regarding its forensics program: http://bit.ly/1bjkKXf.

  11. Michelle Finzel // October 24, 2013 at 9:06 pm // Reply

    How is any of this related back to race? C’mon debate people, let’s stop committing our own fallacies here, shall we? As a previous TU student and S&D team member, I never had any say in the tournaments to which we travelled. That is up to the people in charge. The same thing applied when I went to another school for my MA. Whatever issues are between the students, their previous coach, and their current director definitely need to be addressed and the students must be protected at all times. However, I repeat, I see no evidence point to a race issue other than someone said, “Huh, I wonder if this would have happened if we were White.”

  12. How does this have to do with race? While I feel for the debaters and agree that Davis and Potter acted inappropriately and abused their leadership roles, there is nothing to indicate that these incidents are racially motivated. The threat report makes no mention of any racial slurs being used or that race may have been a factor in any of the incidents. It is fair to demand that the debate team be treated fairly and receive helpful administrative assistance that allows them to pursue their goals. It is fair to demand that Potter be fired for abusing her administrative position. It is not fair to pull the race card in a last-ditch-effort to bring attention to an incident that is not racially motivated. It’s not fair to the accused to be labelled a racist for the rest of their lives, nor is it fair to the University of Towson to imply that it is not a place for black and brown students.

    “It leads us to wonder if the debaters (who are all students of color) would have been treated this way if they were white.” This is complete speculation with no evidence in the article or threat report to support the claim.

    “The only conclusion we can draw is that their lack of commitment to the team is based in the institution’s racist attitude.” Why would you jump to that conclusion? I’d bet that Towson has hundreds of clubs, organizations, groups, and teams. There aren’t enough human or monetary resources to focus on and reach out to every single one.

    “In LBS, several of us are alumni of the program and the university has never reached out to us to support the team, which leads us to further believe that the university harbors racist attitudes towards the program.” Just because the university isn’t paying special attention and reaching out to you doesn’t mean they are racist. Again, a university is a big place comprised of many student organizations. If you need support, it is the job of leadership within your organization to get that support from the university, not the other way around.

  13. After reading this article i can’t believe in this day in age that people are still carrying this negative and racist mindset. I would like to say to the debate team, alumnus and all people of color, that this must stop.
    Pray to the Lord, and give it to Him, this foolishness will stop, because the Lord will intervene and stop it!!To the debaters do not be weary in your well-doing….do not let the enemy have the satisfaction in ruffling

    you.This matter will change if your only pray to the Lord, meanwhile smile and carry your heads high, because your help is coming from the Lord. Amen

  14. I’m curious as to whether or not a similar situation impacts upon Afrodescendant students of other colleges and universities, especially in Maryland. As an alumnus (“escapee”) of Johns Hopkins University in 1981, I’m familiar with some of the historical experiences Black students face on predominantly-White campuses. As a Pan-Afrikan activist in the area of Baltimore, Maryland, I’m concerned about the issues we face here, and I have some familiarity with LBS and their important work. My organization, the Sixth Region Diaspora Caucus (SRDC–www.srdcinternational.org), would like to see how our organizations can work together on common interests and issues. I’d also like to keep up on this particular issue, especially the degree to which this situation may be repeating itself at Hopkins, UMBC, Loyola, Notre Dame and other colleges, and how these situations compare to the Community Colleges as well as Morgan, Coppin and Sojourner-Douglass as Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Finally, is there a provision in these debate tournaments for “community debate teams” of students to be allowed to compete (perhaps students who are not attending a college, whose colleges don’t have debate teams, whose colleges don’t send their teams to tournaments or whose colleges are antagonistic to Afrodescendant students)? I’d like to be able to talk with LBS and, if possible, students to examine this issue. I also have a Website that is based on a Pan-Afrikan newsletter I wrote several years ago called KUUMBAReport. Perhaps an article could be written and placed in my Website.

    Peace and Power,
    Bro. Cliff
    Editor, KUUMBAReport Online (http://kuumbareport.com)
    Maryland State Facilitator, Sixth Region Diaspora Caucus
    (www.srdcinternational.org)

  15. There are many social justice minded folks at Towson too, who are up in arms, but need to get more organized. There needs to be more work to connect all the like-minded anti-racist people to have grassroots change at Towson. The guy who was the so called White Student Union has left Towson–the administration didn’t support him or allow a group to be formed officially, but they also didn’t ban the idea of the group and its unofficial organization.

  16. why stop a program because OF one’s selfishness who does not deserve forgiveness.

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3 Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Response to “Why You Shouldn’t Send Your Black & Brown Children to Towson University” | Activist-With-Hat
  2. The Towerlight » TU investigating forensics team, coach
  3. White Student Union affiliated university @TowsonU won’t send students of color to @Harvard after successful @kickstarter campaign. | LivingInColorBlindness

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