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Providence College DEI Director files discrimination charges after resigning

Editor's note: This article was originally published on Steve Alquist's reader-supported Substack on April 25, 2024. It is reprinted here with his permission.

Former DEI Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Education and Professional Development at Providence College, E Corry Kole
Former Director of DEI Education and Professional Development at Providence College, E Corry Kole.

Former DEI Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Education and Professional Development at Providence College, E Corry Kole, who resigned on March 8th, 2024, has filed a charge of discrimination with the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights. On Wednesday Kole held a press conference outside Providence College to talk about their experience.

On Monday, Kole and their attorney John Daigle filed a charge of discrimination with the RI Commission for Human Rights against Providence College. Kole and Daigle aver that during Kole’s three-and-a-half-year employment with the College holding the first position in its history to address LGBTQ+ inclusion, they experienced direct, repeated, patterned, and systemic discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. This filing comes on the heels of an Open Letter for LGBTQ+ Justice published shortly after Kole’s resignation. The letter has garnered almost 1,000 signatures and was delivered by a group of students, faculty, and staff to Providence College President Father Kenneth Sicard on March 5.

Here’s the video and a transcript of Kole’s words:

"This morning, students two miles from here, students on Brown University's campus set up an encampment joining a wave of peaceful protest and direct action on university campuses across the country turning our eyes towards Gaza where horrifyingly, over 35,000 Palestinians - men, women, children, humans - have been murdered in 200 days of genocide. This is ongoing violence that our country directly funds and I want us to start by taking a moment of silence to feel the breath in our bodies, to grieve the bodies that have been taken. I want to be clear that these statements are in solidarity with student movements across the country. It is all interconnected. Let's take a breath.

“Students have always been at the forefront of liberatory social movements. That's why I've worked on college campuses for my entire career, but you might not hear about this kind of political activism at Providence College, and that's largely the result of a very intentional, multi-generational attempt to silence and depoliticize this campus. Even now, some students want to be here who might have a contract with the college. They may be a worker in an office or a resident assistant, and they can't be here because they were threatened with termination if they showed up at this press conference today. Shame.

“Yet there has always been a remnant at Providence College of people doing the quiet work of community building and justice, speaking clearly about what they need and what they demand regarding human dignity. Everything I am about to say has in some way been shaped or influenced by the elders who have gone before me, the community I've loved, that loves me, and that I'm so proud to be a part of. For years, the portraits of these queer elders and ancestors hung on the wall behind me in my office in Moore Hall. Christine Jorgenson, Audrey Lorde, Harvey Milk, James Baldwin, Marsha P Johnson, Chavela Vargas, and of course the Divine Mother, Mary. I thank them for their love, their legacies, and their strength.

“Thank you all so much for being here. It means so much to me to see your faces, to be in your presence, and to feel your care and your support. I'm E Corry Kole and it was one of the greatest honors of my career and vocation to be the first person hired to do LGBTQ inclusion work at Providence College. For years, I held sacred space with multi-generational and intersecting struggles for human dignity on this campus.

“Stories are powerful. Stories are powerful and history is always a contested story. The stories we tell collectively are some of the most important stories that can either stoke fear or imagination. Thank you to every LGBTQ person at Providence College who entrusted me with your story. The land we are gathering on and we are in relation to today, is potent. The land has its own story. We are standing on the stolen lands of the Narragansett and the Wampanoag people, the indigenous people of the dawn land, and there has long been a struggle between the land that remembers and the institution that purposefully obscures and forgets.

“This week, my lawyer and I filed a charge of discrimination against Providence College with the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights. My experience at Providence College is not an isolated event. I was hired in 2020 to engage with current and future LGBTQ students to represent to them that Providence College is a place where queer students and faculty are shown love, respect, and acceptance. The reality that quickly became clear to me was that while PC was happy to take students' money and enjoy the reputation of being inclusive, it is and has always been opposed to living out those ideals.

“The community has spoken for itself in a thorough and brilliant open letter about LGBTQ suffering and injustice over generations of the college. The community has said what it needs and what it demands. This letter carries on the great legacy of the 2015 and 2020 student demands and those detail a chronic, violent, and oppressive way of discriminating against, silencing, and pushing out anyone who does not fit who this institution was created for - namely, white, cisgender heterosexual men who wanted Catholic higher education.

“As the brilliant indigenous scholar Charlie Amáyá Scott has reminded us, these are colonial institutions built on stolen land through stolen resources by stolen people. Providence College has changed demographically over time, but the systems and structures operating within it have not. I hope that by filing this charge and later going to trial, this public accountability and pressure will contribute to the lasting changes that the community has been demanding for generations. And if demand is a difficult word for you, Providence College Administration, I invite you to read the beautiful letter from Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Letter from Birmingham Jail.

“I arrived at PC having completed 12 years of campus ministry on college campuses across the region. I was slowly coming out as queer to my family and my colleagues after working for an organization where I had to sign paperwork that I wouldn't be gay. I was weathering tremendous loss and I was also picking up some organizational leadership skills along the way. The road to coming out as LGBTQ within Christian and Catholic contexts is not an easy one. It's very powerful and healing to have my family with me today and this beautiful coalition of community that is crying out for justice on this campus.

“I came to PC as someone deeply committed to the Jesus way. He's the one who taught me about empire. Jesus spoke in parables, these bite-sized stories that if you had ears to hear and eyes to see, you would note little jabs at the Roman Empire throughout his storytelling and his work. He was a mystic and a healer. Providence College has eclipsed this Christ. Providence College students, alumni, faculty, and staff have begged for generations for this college to be Catholic, to move in the cruciform, enemy-loving, power dynamic flipping, anti-empire way of Jesus. Other Catholic colleges have figured this out, and have found a way to be faithfully Catholic and to create room for their LGBTQ community you have refused. We are here today to call you back to your humanity. We know you feel in your spirit when veritas - that tangible truth of human dignity and love and mercy comes into conflict with your institutional obligations, duties, and inhumane commitments. Jesus's harshest words were reserved for the religious elite of his day.

“There is a story we tell ourselves, especially in Rhode Island about the Catholic Church. We say, ‘What do you expect we're Catholic? This is the way it's always been. This is the way it will always be.’ We are in an earth-shaking time of rearranging our relationship to oppressive systems and behaviors passed down from generation to generation. And we're here today to gather and say, ‘No, you do not get a pass on discriminatory behavior and violating civil and human rights. You don't get a pass.’

“Is that what it means to be Catholic? Do we want that catholicity? I don't think so. And that eclipses the beautiful work that's being done within the Catholic Church historically by people who are faithful and who believe in the good medicine that the church has to offer. We have to tell a different story.

“Until the church contends with its deeply violent colonial history there will not be collective healing at Providence College, or honestly, in the wider geopolitical sphere, which the Roman Catholic Church has touched in every point. That colonial violence lives in the land. It lives in the body of every child molested by a priest. It lives in the mass graves of indigenous children stolen from their families and their relations violently assimilated in Catholic boarding schools. It lives in the body of every woman who has been silenced in her leadership and her voice. And it certainly lives in the bodies of every queer young person and adult who has wanted to serve the church with an earnest heart and has been rejected.

“We say, ‘No. You don't get a pass.’

“To my former Providence College colleagues in mission and ministry, I offered you my theological frameworks. I worked well within your theological boundaries and I was trying to show you what is possible when we lead out of love instead of fear and when we lead out of creativity and innovation instead of anxiety. Repeatedly, you gutted the work I brought to you of any potency for LGBTQ justice and dignity, and you primarily focused on a defensive posture around the church's teaching of human sexuality and gender. Painfully, I experienced a repeated, direct, and indirect pattern of discrimination from you at the college.

“I was told I couldn't identify as queer. I was told that the Dominican Friars were not going to like my gender transition and I should keep that private. You raised barrier after barrier to my completing the work you hired me to do. If you can recall the scene in Peanuts where Lucy is setting up the football for Charlie Brown to give it a punt and she keeps moving it. That was my experience working for Providence College. The rules kept changing under my feet, impossible to keep track of.

“Most offensive to me and my community, you buried the interviews that I conducted with LGBTQ alumni and the 60-page report on LGBTQ experiences at the college that is packed with recommendations for systemic and cultural change. And now you wring your hands and you say you're in a lose-lose situation. I called bullshit.

“Providence College has been given multiple chances to address my complaints of discrimination. It declined to act. Filing a charge of discrimination with the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is the only remaining means to obtain justice, and although the commissions have the authority to award monetary compensation for the harm that employers have caused, I'm seeking more than that. I am seeking institutional change.

“Providence College has policies aimed at promoting diversity and inclusion. I was the DEI director. PC has used those policies to lure LGBTQ students and faculty to the school, and I want the college to live up to the goals of inclusion outlined in its policies. Let's take a breath together. Queer people will not disappear from Providence College. The research tells us quite the opposite. They deserve flourishing, not suffering and survival.

“Beyond the discrimination I endured at Providence College, they have now censored a beloved local artist, Shey Rivera Ríos, who also lives in the intersections of queer and indigenous Puerto Rican lineage. They have created a culture that threatens academic freedom and they have done all of that while systematically pushing out black faculty from this institution. Shame. We are in desperate need of collective healing.

“To those who have gathered today, I want you to hear me. We have so much collective power when we move together and we get organized. My lawsuit is an individual charge because it's my experience at the college, but the open letter did a brilliant way of positioning my resignation in a long history of repeated discrimination. Keep telling your story, write it down. Tell it from generation to generation and get organized. Think strategically about how to create the kind of world we want to live in, to create it together. Not a world where we cast a blind eye to Gaza, where we can't call genocide or genocide. Not a world where students of color on this campus need to fear for their jobs and they can't speak out publicly about things that matter to them. Not a world where LGBTQ students have no access to bathrooms that are safe for them or institutional policies that will protect them.

“Wake oh sleepers, your voices, your talents. They're needed now. The time is now. Father Richard Rohr reminds us that pain not transformed is transmitted, so whatever pathology the church will throw onto queer people, I believe is a projection. We are not a pathology. We are beautifully and deeply and wildly loved, and I want to say to every PC student, past, present, and future who may identify as LGBTQ - whatever that means for you - God is big enough to hold all of it.

“I want to finish today's remarks with a poem from Assata Shakur. It was in my email signature all the years that I was at the college and I wrote it down in my resignation on March 8th, 2024. So if you'll take a moment to just check in with your body, remember the land that you're on. I want to read you these words. ‘I believe in living. I believe in birth. I believe in the sweat of love and the fire of truth, and I believe that a lost ship steered by tired seasick sailors can still be guided home to port.’”


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