Women of color have quit UT's Center for Women in Law for racism that 'courses through (its) veins'

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Photo Credit: Eilish O'Sullivan | Daily Texan Staff

The University’s Center for Women in Law is facing complaints of racism from several employees who have worked there. In the last year, at least seven women of color have quit their positions.

“Racism really courses through the veins of that organization,” said Ayana D’Aguilar, a former intern for the center. “It has a reputation for being what some have said is the ‘Center for White Women in Law.’”

D’Aguilar, who identifies as Jamaican-American, said she quit her internship last semester earlier than expected because the work environment was hostile toward people of color. 

“The day I left, I spoke with the executive director, Linda Bray Chanow ... and I told her that the reason I was quitting was because of the underlying tone of racism in the office,” said D’Aguilar, an Islamic studies, South Asian languages and Plan II senior.

UT Law’s human resources department is conducting an investigation into Chanow’s behavior, as is the Office of Inclusion and Equity, D’Aguilar said. HR Director Cindy Story did not respond to requests for comment. 

“The Center for Women in Law takes allegations of misconduct seriously and remains dedicated to the advancement of all women in the legal profession,” UT law spokesperson Chris Roberts said in an email. “In order to maintain the integrity of the University’s investigative processes — and to ensure the privacy of any individuals involved — we cannot discuss any ongoing investigations.”

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 D’Aguilar said Chanow made racist comments and treated employees differently based on the color of their skin. Chanow declined multiple requests for comment. 

At one point during her internship, D’Aguilar said she opened up to Chanow about racism she had experienced, and said Chanow responded by telling D’Aguilar to “suck it up.” 

“She said, ‘It is hard, and you’re gonna have to suck it up a lot of the time because you’re a black woman, and you’re just never going to really be comfortable in any work space,’” D’Aguilar said. “I was in shock, like ‘How is she saying this to me.’ She just legitimized that none of these institutions were built for me and will never be made for me.”

Chanow asked if it was really racism that was the problem, D’Aguilar said. 

“She said, ‘How many of these issues you’re bringing up right now are because of racism or just your personality?’” D’Aguilar said. “This (felt) like ... an attempt to put the burden of the effects of racism on my shoulders.”

Public relations senior Tiffany Hammond also interned at the center and took over a fundraising project D’Aguilar had been working on before she quit. Hammond said Chanow favored the project more once Hammond, a Latina who said she can pass as white, began working on it.

“All of the sudden it was this big project that Linda wanted to focus on in meetings, wanted to encourage me on,” Hammond said. “It felt so weird receiving those compliments knowing that Ayana had really set the foundation for that project, and while Ayana had done all the work for it ... she had not received the same compliments as me.”

Hammond said she quit her internship because Chanow is an “unfit” manager.

 

“From what I’ve seen, I can say (Chanow) is racist, and she has bias within her that she is not acknowledging,” Hammond said.

 D’Aguilar said Chanow treated several women of color poorly, causing many to quit. 

“(Her behavior was) having a disparate impact on the women of color working there,” D’Aguilar said. “The fact that there have been women of color who quit after me ... shows that it’s not getting better.”

The center has lost interns before due to racism, according to a source who has worked at the center and requested anonymity for fear of retaliation.

“The talent that the Center for Women in Law has lost ... that’s not talent that the Center nor the law school can afford to lose,” the source said. “Those women are brilliant ...  and to have that kind of intelligence, that kind of talent ... walk out the door because Linda Chanow is a horrifically inept manager at best, and a racist at worst, is a travesty.”

The source said the law school’s HR department has known about the complaints against Chanow since at least August 2018 when HR opened an investigation into Chanow and began taking statements from current and former staff at the center. Chanow herself has said she reports solely to the dean of the law school, according to the source. 

“Linda Chanow is still sitting there,” the source said. “She’s still earning over (an estimated) $160,000 a year, and she’s still creating an environment that is hostile ... and perhaps illegal in its racial disparity.”

Law school dean Ward Farnsworth did not respond to multiple requests for comment. In an email sent to law students March 1 and obtained by The Daily Texan, he said the law school is responding to D’Aguilar’s concerns, which she voiced on social media in late February. 

“The Center for Women in Law has a long track record of supporting women in their professional development, including many students from different backgrounds,” Farnsworth wrote. “A recent blog post some of you may have seen called attention to concerns about the center, including a complaint that has been made by an undergraduate who served there as an intern ... I just write to assure you that it has our attention and is being investigated in a careful and responsible way.”