Wednesday, June 8, 2016

On Being Kicked Off of the Diversity and Inclusion Council at the GSV United Way

It is not easy to talk about bullying, but I am not one to be cowed.

I have been subject to a campaign of bullying and bigotry since late last summer, when I made my opinion known against Penn Commons (a low-income development in Lewisburg).

Perhaps you remember, if you are from this area, the accusations of racism toward a group labeled 'conservatives' in Lewisburg, who also did not approve of the development.

I was called a conservative, and a racist, for being opposed to the housing development. As time went on, I was subject of much more bigotry and bullying from a small group in Lewisburg who are advocating for the housing project.

I was yelled at at an Undoing Racism(R) Meet-up! to change my mind about Penn Commons. I was accused of 'bad messaging' by Susan Jordan and others in this small group in Lewisburg. Jordan also happens to be the Chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Council under the GSV United Way, which I was a member of for a year, until I was kicked off for 'disagreeing with the chair' and other such baseless reasons.

I confirmed with Susan Jordan and one other from Lewisburg that the 'bad messaging' being held against me referred to my opinion on the housing project in Lewisburg.

I was invited to join the Council because of my work with Undoing Racism(R). Unfortunately, as Jordan became aware of my concerns about the bigotry, and bullying, from this small group in Lewisburg, I was increasingly subject to further bullying and bigotry from her in the Council.

Jordan's actions were supported by Joanne Troutman, the new CEO of the United Way, and the Chairman of the Board, Eric Rowe.

Troutman and Jordan effectively silenced me from bringing up issues with the larger council. 

I was also accused of 'a history of conflict,' 'being nonprofessional,' 'disrespecting Susan Jordan,' 'refusing to work with others,' and 'disrespecting the hierarchy of the council.' All of these accusations pivoted on opinions that Jordon disagreed with me on, or were baseless charges exaggerated by leadership at the GSV United Way. These accusations were spread far and wide, as rumors, which damaged my reputation, and has and still does require considerable effort on my part to disavow.

In all of my dealings with the United Way and Jordan I was kind and respectful. Unfortunately, Jordan and Troutman were unwilling, and even aggressively avoided listening to concerns about the small group in Lewisburg.

Both of these groups- leadership at the GSV United Way, and the small group from Lewisurg, were also resistant to involving conservatives in conversations about diversity, or addressing the lack of conservative voice on the council, and in these 'diversity' related groups in Lewisburg. In fact, the environment in these two groups was actively hostile to conservatives as a category.

For the record, I am not a conservative, and any one who knows me would get a hearty laugh at the suggestion.

I was first asked to voluntarily leave the council, due to my difference of opinion with Jordan (labeled as 'disrespectful'). I did not see our difference of opinions as an issue, and refused to voluntarily leave.

Several other reasons were then given to back up Jordan, Troutman, and Rowe's decision to expel me from the committee, including:

'Cheating on the committee'

This referred to me organizing outside the council on Undoing Racism(R), which as I mentioned was the reason I was invited to join the council. I was organizing for a year outside the council before they voted to get involved, which I begged leadership to do the year that I served on the council.

Troutman accepted 2 discounted admissions to the Undoing Racism(R) program in Novemeber 2015, under the understanding that I was looking for professional leaders to give a testimony about the value of the training to build support throughout the region. Jordan and Sara Lauver attended the training with me in Novemeber, and came back with positive reviews.

The Council voted to get involved in Undoing Racism(R) in December of 2015, and a few weeks later, Troutman, Jordan, and Rowe made the executive decision to retract their support in the council (as Troutman said, because of my 'cheating' -- that is forming a regional council with one member from each county, which had no effect on the council's potential role).

Troutman privately told me that the UW was not going to be involved in Undoing Racism(R), but refused to make a public statement. She has since used the training as a badge in her work, while refusing to provide a statement of support for wider community efforts.

'Disrespecting the Council'

Shortly after that, the GSV United Way posted a letter on the DI Council Facebook page, by a SU student demanding that teachers take Undoing Racism(R). I commented on the post, and expressed my disappointment that the UW executives had decided to back out of the council's commitment to get involved in the larger regional effort. This comment was then used, along with accusations of my 'cheating' to kick me off of the council.

There were several other instances of Jordan, Troutman, and others from a small group in Lewisburg bullying me and acting badly out of bigotry toward what they perceived as my opinions/beliefs.

Through all of this bigotry and bullying, I tried to be kind, to disengage in conflict, and to engage in positive communication. Troutman and Jordan refused to communicate in any meaningful way, and every communication I had with them was aggressive and rife with bigtory and bullying.

'Contacting a board member without permission'

I contacted the board to inform them of the conflict, and to suggest a board member attend one of our meetings to get correct information about what I was doing, and what the council had been talking about doing with Undoing Racism(R), as they seemed misinformed by Troutman and Jordan. Contacting a board member was also used against me, as a reason to kick me off of the council.

After I was kicked off the council, I wrote a letter to the editor, which was not printed, I was told, because they were going to write a full story on the issue. I spent time with a Daily Item reporter, and was eventually written off and told that the story was not a priority (this while the paper had printed more than one letter to the editor from Troutman on the UW's efforts to address bullying etc).

I am extremely disappointed in Troutman, Jordan, and Rowe's behavior, as well as Cynthia Peltier from the CommUnity Zone (as she was also instrumental in the campaign against me).

(Peltier also plagiarized Undoing Racism(R) materials, inserting UR's copyrighted wording from their website as the base for CommUnity Zone's new programming, after explicit instructions to not do so, and after a long lecture to me about the worthlessness of this particular training.)

Troutman, Jordan, and the small group from Lewisburg have spun rumors throughout the 5 county region I have been organizing, and made a lot of clean up work for me, to rebuild my reputation -- to say nothing of the personal toil that their bigotry and bullying has put me through over the past year.

As of now, I have personally engaged close to 200 community members, including 70 community leaders throughout our region, about racism, and Undoing Racism(R). I have had positive feedback from everyone except for this group at the GSV United Way, and the small group in Lewisburg, who were offended by my opinion on the Penns Commons housing development.

I sincerely hope that the grievance that I have taken up with the United Way and the few in Lewisburg will be reflected upon and taken seriously.

We need all voices included in community discussions on racism, including conservatives. Leaders also need to be open to new voices from our communities, as we are missing many voices in our community dialogue.

As I have experienced them, the leaders in these institutions -- The GSV United Way, the CommUnity Zone, and the Mediation Center -- all have a bit of preparing to do before they purport to address issues of bullying, bigotry, and racism in the community.

Certainly, the actions of those in leadership at these organizations, toward me, goes against the missions of the organizations they are responsible for. These specific leaders can be educated, (Undoing Racism(R) would be a good start), or new, more prepared leadership might be put in place.

If you are bullied in our communities, remember, you are not alone. Document the abuse, stand up for yourself, and use the media (even social media) to hold irresponsible leadership accountable.