Frank Talk To Prospective Job Applicants or Discrimination?


Sonya Duhé

When I was in law school, a petite young woman asked a professor a question in class in a voice that can be accurately described as a “tiny.”

“If you want to be an attorney, ” the professor bellowed, “You need to speak with power and authority. You may want to rethink whether the law is right for you.” 

One can imagine Sonya Forte Duhé offering advice in a similar vein as the chair of Loyola University’s School of Communication and Design.

Duhé was set to take over July 1 as the dean of the Arizona State University (ASU) journalism school and as chief executive officer of Arizona’s PBS station. But ASU recently retracted its job offer. She had already left Loyola in anticipation of the new job and is now unemployed.

The Arizona Star reported that nearly two dozen former students at Loyola told State Press, ASU’s student newspaper, that  Duhé engaged in behavior that students of color and LGBTQ students found racist and discriminatory. According to Loyola’s student newspaper, two black students said they filed formal discrimination complaints against Duhé. 

The complaints reportedly involved comments by Duhé on the appearance of minority and gay students, including dress and makeup, ideas of physical attractiveness, weight and hair. One Loyola student, who is black, said Duhé criticized her for wearing her hair natural.

In the Real World?

After two decades, I know that speaking with power and authority is a major plus for an attorney and can make a huge difference in terms of the successful representation of clients. Of course, one speaks in many ways and many attorneys never see the inside of a courtroom. 

I also agree the media, particularly the broadcast media, is grossly discriminatory.  The vast majority of people of all races and orientations who appear on our television screens fall within a narrow spectrum of age and appearance. Someone with face and/or neck tattoos, for example, would find it challenging, at best, break into mainstream TV news.

There have been many lawsuits in recent years alleging that qualified older candidates were either not hired or fired by news organizations simply  because of their age.

The EEOC filed a lawsuit in 2017 against CBS Stations Group of Texas for refusing to hire  a beautiful 42-year-old blonde with a dazzling smile as a traffic reporter even though she had done the job part-time position for several years. Instead, the stations hired a 24-year-old applicant who lacked the posted qualification of five years experience.

This is not to say that it is right for a professor to give students the benefit of their wisdom on how their appearance will affect their future professional marketability.  Just because a certain type of individual in the past has faced obstacles in the real world doesn’t mean they will in the future. And it is very possible that a professor is motivated by racism and/or homophobia.

Was the law professor doing the female student with a tiny voice any favors two decades ago?  I believe he was wrong, even if he was truly concerned that her voice was a major impediment to future success.  At the very least, he humiliated her in front of her peers based upon a gender-specific  trait. He was grossly insensitive and possibly traumatized a vulnerable young woman. It was not his job to grade her voice.

Was the law professor discriminating or was he doing her a favor?

Two dozen ASU faculty members signed a letter to the university president saying it would harm the school’s reputation if Duhé became dean and ASU students began an online petition calling on the university to retract its job officer.

ASU Provost Mark Searle said last week “the future of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and our public television station will be better served by not advancing with Dr. Duhé as their leader.”

Meanwhile, Loyola University President Tania Tetlow apologized to the school’s community for their handling of allegations of racial bias by Duhé, who had worked at Loyola for 11 years.

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