Trigger warning: mention of racial slurs
On Feb. 9, 2021, a post on the @DearMereCo Instagram page described an encounter with a professor, who was not initially identified, in which they used a racial slur in a class. Following this post, students began calling for the professor to be named and for them to resign. In the comments of the post, the professor was soon identified as Dr. Veronique Machelidon, Department Head of World Languages and Cultures. On Feb. 22, another post regarding the incident was shared on @DearMereCo. This post provided a script for students to use to call Dr. Machelidon’s campus phone and demand her resignation. The post also called for the resignation of Dr. Sarah Roth, Dean of Arts and Humanities, because students claim she did not take action against Dr. Machelidon and dismissed student concerns. This article will focus on student response to the incident. Interviews with Dr. Roth and Dr. Jo Allen, President of Meredith College, can be found in The Meredith Herald’s other article covering this ongoing investigation.
The Herald reached out to Dr. Machelidon, but she was unable to provide comments due to the ongoing investigation into the matter. On the Feb. 9 post, the anonymous student reported that Dr. Machelidon “justified her actions by saying she wasn’t ‘from America.’” The post stated that Dr. Machelidon, who is originally from Belgium, later sent out an apology email and said the student “made a ‘good point’ by telling her to use ‘the n-word’ instead of saying it,” but “the damage was already...done” according to the student’s post. Dr. Roth’s statement specifies that a student reported to her that “the word had been said in class…as a way of explaining a French term.” In the comments of the @DearMereCo post, many students also feel that there is more damage being done by commenters. Student Charlie Hatch, ‘23, has been active in the comment section of the account, where white students often defend the actions of those posted about. Hatch said, “White students on campus need to stop telling BIPOC how to respond to racial violence on campus. If you want to be an ally then support, but telling BIPOC ‘to be understanding’ is the reason why [Meredith College] has gotten away with everything.” Her comments reflect the sentiments of other students who are speaking up.
According to Camille Duncan, ‘22, Dr. Machelidon sent a message to her Elementary French Conversation I class on Feb. 25, notifying them that as of March 1, she would no longer be teaching their class. The email stated that Professor Benoit Ngolo would be taking over the class, but Dr. Machelidon added in the email that she “hope[s] to see [her students] back in the fall semester,” making it unclear what further consequences may follow as a result of the investigation. Duncan said that she is “looking forward to working with Professor Ngolo, and hope[s] that the transition will be smooth and successful and that things can change for the better for Black women and women of color on campus and in the classroom.” Dr. Matthew Poslusny, Senior Vice President and Provost, confirmed to The Herald that Dr. Machelidon is “not teaching any classes for the remainder of the semester.”
The Herald also spoke with a recent graduate from the Class of 2020 who wishes to remain anonymous and was in the Fall 2020 French course, which, at the time, focused on culture. The alumna said that, while she was not “in class directly when it happened…[she] was made aware of the racial slur by another classmate and asked her if that class was recorded over Zoom, which it was.” When the alumna checked Brightspace for the recording of the class, the recording was posted and did include the portion of class where Dr. Machelidon used the slur. The alumna said, “I made sure to record the few minutes of conversation before to provide context for my complaint. Even with the context regarding the conversation, there is absolutely no justification for that word being said.” In the following class, the alumna said that Dr. Machelidon apologized to the class as previously described, saying that she did not know not to use the slur because she wasn’t from the United States.
After the alumna saw the recording of the initial class, she contacted Dr. Roth. The alumna said, “I sent [Dr. Roth] the recording of the class with the proper context including how the use of that racial slur made me feel.” The alumna continued that the response she received was, “‘Did you consider having a conversation with Dr. Machelidon on why that word made you uncomfortable?’ and that she thought that was the best way to go before making a formal complaint.” Following the class where Dr. Machelidon apologized, the alumna says she also sent a recording of that class to Dr. Roth.
When asked what she believed should happen following the investigation, the alumna said, “First and foremost, I think there needs to be a real and genuine apology and understanding that what [Dr. Machelidon] did and how she went about it was hurtful and not okay. I do believe there needs to be consequences for her actions as well, because I would hate for this to happen to other BIPOC, especially those who don’t know how to come forward, are afraid of retaliation or haven’t found their voice to speak up yet.” Regarding the investigation into Dr. Roth, the alumna said that she believes there should be inclusion and diversity training for all deans, professors and advisors. Additionally, she stated that she believes there should be “a statement followed up with an action plan” regarding what Meredith College will do to ensure this does not happen in the future and allow BIPOC students to “flourish” at Meredith. Thus far, Meredith College has offered faculty and staff the opportunity to participate in anti-racism training offered by the Racial and Equity Institute, and the School of Arts and Humanities is also in the midst of their year-long initiative on “Belonging at Meredith College.” Additionally, according to Dr. Allen’s Feb. 17 Anti-Racism Initiative update email, there is a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion exploratory committee that is “researching position descriptions and qualifications of other institutions' DEI roles to shape the new DEI position at Meredith.” More details about other facets of the Anti-Racism Initiative can be found on the initiative’s website.
Additionally, several Meredith College alumnae have spoken about the situation, including Sarah Marshall, ‘16. She is quoted in an article from CBS 17 as being part of a group of alumnae that have created a list of demands for Meredith College. The demands include a public apology from Dr. Machelidon, Dr. Roth and the college as a whole, the immediate reassignment of all BIPOC students from Dr. Machelidon’s advisee list, restitution of course fees for students impacted and mandatory diversity, equity and inclusion training for Meredith College employees, to name a few. The full list can be found on CBS 17’s website.
By Olivia Slack, Co-Editor in Chief