A Four-Page Letter to Black Women Who Work, Teach or Learn in Higher Ed Spaces

Abstract: Don’t work at North Park University without an exit plan. Don’t attend North Park University as a student of color without being prepared to advocate for your needs—often alone.

Please accept this as my letter of resignation from the Assistant Director of Student Success, Careers, and Internships role at North Park University.

If you only read the above summary and commit to learning from that viewpoint—I’ve been vindicated. But if you choose to continue reading why I am leaving NPU, please note that this resignation letter is also an open letter to the students who I had hoped to impact.

As Black women, daughters, mothers, consummate professionals trying not to walk on eggshells in front of ever-present white tears, we are often handed the bare minimum in return for our expertise, hustle and patience.

Bottom of the totem pole and yet still able to be socially branded as resentful, shoulder-chipped, and lazy all at once. How Sway? I’m glad you asked: Partly because representation in spaces where we are othered upon arrival intentionally narrate our stories differently—especially on a campus as white and conservative as North Park. And once we leave, our ability to narrate our experience all but disappears the second we clear out our work space. Well, this Black woman has always had an issue with the hunter being glorified and the lion being shamed in every way. So, not on my watch.

Before I continue, let it be clear that I had to operate an entire department on my own without proper onboarding and often without divisional leadership, and months without access to my department’s funding. Since January, I’ve entered bi-weekly meetings with leadership asking for their vision and strategic plan and how the implementation of career services fit into that vision and plan. Being met with the sound of crickets would’ve been a better response than the amount of actual feedback I received. It was only God’s humor and provision that kept me from feeling surges of anger and sheer disrespect when I found out that this same leadership wanted to hire a Director of Career Services “to work with” me and run a department that I had been operating single-handedly since June. Make it make sense. 🙄

When offered the position of Assistant Director of Student Success, Careers & Internships, I knew there was going to be work to do. I would be directing a department that is generally supported by at least 4-6 staff at other colleges and universities (NACE, 2021) and 8-10 staff on the high end.

But, at North Park, this meant:

I was solely responsible for approving internship eligibility for students; teaching one Career Planning course that would increase from two sections per semester (Fall 2021) to four sections per semester (Spring 2022) without any pay increase and little notice ahead of time (Dec 22, 2022, in fact); planning workshops and large-scale events; conducting registration appointments for incoming students; advising current students; producing content for the department’s social media account; helping COMPASS Peer Mentors find ways to stay connected to their first-year mentees; and motivating students to share information and resources with one another.

My Career Planning 1030 students will tell you that the merging of Career Services and Student Success really meant something to me as a faculty member and administrator. In fact, with 12 years of curriculum and program design, youth development and community organizing experience, it meant the world to me to have the opportunity to conduct research alongside, support and train a student body of 1200 scholars. Of course, I wouldn’t be able to reach all the North Park students by myself and it wasn’t in my budget to hire another full-time staffer. So, I endeavored to do the best I could to impact as many students in the most effective ways I could until my office’s capacity increased.

Here’s a break down of the total number of students I’ve met with:

I accomplished 439 in-person touch points with students over the course of 154 business days. I know this because I used simple sign-in sheets to track nearly every student who walked into my office or who attended any workshop I hosted between August 30, 2021-March 31, 2022. But, 439 does not account for summer hours spent preparing for the arrival of 11 COMPASS Peer Mentors and 43 COMPASS scholars 10 days before classes began. Nor does the number include any of the registration appointments I led with incoming first years and transfer students. Add my virtual touch points (email-only conversations and MS Teams Meetings) with students and that total increases again.

Oh, I can’t forget that I had 76 students enrolled in my Career Planning sections. If I calculated every time each of them attended class, 439 student touch points would increase once more. While I love teaching, the amount of work it took to coordinate my calendar to fit those 439 individual student touch points, often left the Student Engagement Front Desk Team disrespected by impatient students and a little salty with me. Many of those students, however, had no clue that I also had to have meetings with colleagues, started hosting a weekly drop-in resume workshop, planned events, and took time to prepare materials for lectures and class discussions, or grading assignments. In hindsight, I was running myself into the ground trying to maintain a broken system.

Until I started to ask myself: Why would I, as a new staff member, be expected to do this much work without any increase in pay, an adequate promotion, an increase in my budget, or any other viable resources and benefits? Could it be that North Park University’s structural racism trains my colleagues to view me as a “mule of the earth” and deserving of this much work to prove my professional worth? The thought left me aghast and exhausted thinking about the same leadership team that proved favoritism was real within my first 90 days.

Here’s where my experience gets even more covertly racist:

  • My position and decision to implement a standard for collaborating with my office was completely undermined by senior-level leadership’s approval of internships for 9 students when the Dean of their major departments all but harassed cabinet members into compliance. Then, had the gall to conveniently add 4 more students to the original list weeks later. (Here’s a cringe-worthy fact: One of the students added onto the list didn’t even request to be registered for internship credit and only found out when the university added the overload fees to their account.).
  • I have been completely ignored by a key colleague that I am supposed to consistently collaborate with . I’ve emailed this person SIX times since February 28th about student internship registrations for Summer ‘22 students whose selection was erroneously added on their current Spring ‘22 schedules. Six emails with my direct supervisor cc’d and not a peep from either of them about the issue I was raising or a response about how long it would take the Office of the Registrar to correct the issue. Here I am trying to act as an advocate for NPU students and being ignored. Then, this week I was cc’d on an email from the faculty advisor of one of the students registered for the wrong internship semester. In the message the faculty member is informing the Office of the Registrar of the same error that I emailed them about. THE VERY NEXT DAY, the colleague that I’ve already emailed SIX times (with no reply since February 28th) miraculously remembers my email address and forwarded the faculty advisor’s email to me to inquire if said colleague had made a mistake with that student’s registration. *stares in side eye*
  • I was told that my Black daughter (age 7) didn’t need to be on campus while I was assisting a colleague (after working hours at that) coordinate an evening event for his pre-orientation program. (Did I mention this same group of students became my responsibility after he left due to similar piss poor treatment by senior-level leadership in other departments?) despite the fact that it was SUMMER, she was not bothering any students and a white male faculty member and his toddler were kee-keeing in the halls of Johnson’s Student Engagement Center with the University President.
  • I have been gas lit by a gas lighter that’s in denial; had to look racist white devils in their e-thuggish faces and remind them not to talk down to me in these internet streets, and had to teach collaboration to a few colleagues that originally only saw me as competition.

Did I mention that I started this role 10 months ago yet?

Gaining the trust and respect of the student body was my first priority with implementation and enhancement of the internship process following closely behind.

So, to the students who I did not get a chance to say goodbye to: I can only imagine what we could have accomplished if we had the right support on the front end of my time at North Park or at the beginning of your entry point as a student. Please understand my decision to resign has nothing to do with North Park’s student body (even those of you who were a little overbearing sometimes 😊). I highly respect and appreciate the relationships that I was able to develop with students and some of my colleagues. Despite my experience, please don’t mourn for this Black woman because God has blessed me with some great opportunities to look forward to and I’m leaving campus literally smelling the roses thanks to a fine group of coworkers on the southern end of the Student Engagement office.

If you endeavor to attend (or stay at) North Park as a student or to begin a new role at the institution as a staff member, remember these final things:

  1. You don’t have to compromise who you are for the institution and its needs. If you know that you’re a good person, stand in your truth.
  2. Psalms 18:20 and 25!

To the Black women who work, teach, and learn in Higher Ed spaces across the world: we see you, they see you! Your extra effort is visible, but is it healthy? Whatever your answer: Please remember to look in the mirror and love on yourself before you head into the office each day.

Sincerely, Tyra 🖤

2 responses to “A Four-Page Letter to Black Women Who Work, Teach or Learn in Higher Ed Spaces”

  1. […] reading this, I hope you’ve been captivated by my stories! Whether you’ve been following the SincerelyTyra.com blog, watched my lives on social media, listened to one of the 45+ podcast episodes that I’ve hosted, […]

  2. zakiyyah s. muhammad Avatar
    zakiyyah s. muhammad

    This is to be suspected in these white racist institutions.I love your letter, stand your ground. I hope you go public with your story.

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