Black house hires new assistant

Rani Gupta

Multicultural Advocacy Coordinator Curtis Askew has been temporarily appointed to fill the position of assistant director of African-American Student Affairs following the controversial departure of Derek Wilson.

Askew will serve as interim assistant director for one year while university officials search for a permanent replacement.

Director of African-American Student Affairs Carretta Cooke said Askew was selected for the position because of his experience at Northwestern. In addition to leading the advocacy program, Askew has taught in the sociology and African-American studies departments.

Cooke said she and Vice President for Student Affairs William Banis collaborated on the hiring.

Cooke said the office of African-American Student Affairs made this decision according to university policy, and therefore did not consult students about the appointment.

Cooke informed the For Members Only executive board of the appointment in an e-mail on July 25.

“I understand that this has been an unsettling experience for many of you, but we need to look to how we continue to build the black community,” Cooke said in the e-mail.

Former FMO Administrative Vice-Coordinator Le’Jamiel Goodall said he was disappointed students were not involved in choosing the interim director, but said students should work with Askew and other administrators to make improvements in the Black House.

“I can partially understand that, for administrative reasons, they wanted to fill the position as quickly as possible,” said Goodall, a Weinberg junior. “However, there are students in the area that should have been consulted. Nonetheless, we must simultaneously work with Curtis in the interim and with Student Affairs to enact change.”

Cooke said the process to find a permanent assistant director will start in late fall and will also follow standard university policy.

She said students will be heavily involved in the process by serving on the search committee, reviewing applicant resumes and speaking with the candidates.

Students have demanded more input into Black House affairs because they felt they weren’t consulted or quickly informed about the firing of Wilson.

“Of course students were upset when Derek was fired, but it really came as a slap in face when we heard over e-mail or from word of mouth,” said Tiffany Berry, FMO coordinator.

Wilson, who was fired July 2, said he has appealed to the university because he was “unfairly treated.”

He said the reason given for being fired was that students were in his office, where confidential material relating to students, such as grades and correspondence between departments, was located.

But Wilson said he couldn’t keep students out of his office because it was unlocked, and that Cooke had declined several requests to move him to a locked office.

Cooke declined to comment about Wilson’s departure, citing university policy not to discuss personnel matters.

Berry said she was interested to see how students will react to Askew’s appointment after the furor caused by Wilson’s firing.

“Through my interaction with Derek and Curtis, they seem so different,” said Berry, a Weinberg junior. “I’m interested to see if Curtis will be embraced by the rest of the community.”

Berry said she thinks Askew and Cooke will work well together, which she said could have mixed effects.

“I think it’s good for people in positions that close to work well together,” Berry said. “But I do think it’s good to have a person like Derek in the position to bring diverse thoughts to the table. It’s good to have people with different visions to come together so they can challenge each other, and I don’t think that will necessarily happen with Carretta and Curtis.”

Berry said some students are trying to learn why Wilson was fired and are attempting to get him rehired.

But students are looking beyond the Wilson firing to address related issues in the Black House.

“We feel like the situation has opened our eyes and helped us realize how much power we don’t have,” Berry said. “The situation just pushed us to become mobilized on other issues. Even if we can’t get Mr. Wilson rehired, this has pushed our passion about other things.”

Berry said the Wilson firing was not the only incident where administrators failed to inform black students about important changes.

“When changes were made in the Black House last year, we didn’t hear until we experienced the changes,” she said.

Improving communication, Berry said, is the first step towards improved relations with administrators.

“I definitely think the new FMO board will serve as boundary spanners, relating to student concerns while taking the administration’s positions into deep consideration,” she said. “Basic communication will help us as far as issues like this. Once communication is put into place, it will trickle down into other things.”

Students said they want more input in African-American student affairs to ensure that situations like this do not occur again.

Berry suggested implementing student committees that would evaluate administrators. Although these committees would only be advisory, Berry said if one had been in place, Wilson would not have been fired.

“If the administration knew how important Derek was to us, if we had been able to voice our concerns up to this point, Derek’s termination wouldn’t be an issue,” Berry said. “He would have gotten rave reviews for time at Northwestern.”

Goodall said students want to make sure they are more heavily involved in Black House operations.

“I don’t think anything that’s gone on in African-American Student Affairs is a new problem,” Goodall said. “Students across the university want to be involved, but particularly look at the history of the Black House. Students are the foundation for its beginning.”