Patrick Healy Fellows resign, citing racism and mistreatment in the fellowship

December 6, 2020

Illustration by Deborah Han

All the Patrick Healy Fellows resigned collectively from the Center for Multicultural and Equity and Access-run fellowship, citing the board’s racism, classism, sexism, and queerphobia. 

The resignation comes after years of attempted reform, according to fellows. In the fall of 2020, fellows again attempted to propose reforms to the alumni board but felt they did not receive a sufficient response. 

A Nov. 1 Instagram post on the Patrick Healy Fellowship’s (PHF) account posted by fellows announced the resignation of all students from the fellowship. Twenty-four hours later, the post had been deleted by the board, and the account username and password had been changed. In an effort to spread the words of the fellows, their resignation letter has been distributed by private accounts over social media.

According to its mission statement, the fellowship is a community of student leaders “addressing issues that affect communities of color through a commitment to service, professional development, and alumni mentorship.” The fellowship includes senior and junior students of color.

However, according to the fellows, the mission of the fellowship has been lost as it has become host to a number of discriminatory practices. Past and current fellows have brought concerns to the alumni board about the environment its members have created. Senior fellow Angel Reed (COL ’21) has observed racism and classism within the fellowship since she was first initiated. Reed worked with fellow Briana Thomas (COL ‘21) to attempt to fix problems they noticed in the fellowship.

“For years, we tried to reform PHF,” Reed said. We constantly worked to make PHF a more inclusive space, and it was never reciprocated by the rest of the fellowship. Over and over, it became clear that PHF would never be a safe space for any of the fellows, especially Black women.”

The problems within the PHF begin with getting into the program, according to fellows. Both Reed and junior fellow Rimpal Bajwa (SFS ’22) criticized the fellowship’s intense application process, which involves a strict GPA requirement and grueling interview. 

“The entire interview process is dictated by elitism and anti-Blackness, and this reflects the foundation of the fellowship as a whole,” Reed said. 

Bajwa noticed the power dynamic criticized by the senior fellows from her first experience with the fellowship. 

For my first interview I was in this room and the primary person who was interviewing me was a white man, and the power dynamic in that room was clear,” Bajwa said. “He was asking me, ‘do you feel supported by Georgetown University?’ As a student of color, I didn’t feel comfortable sharing my authentic experience with a white man who probably passed comfortably through Georgetown.”

Bajwa found it confusing that the primary interview of a fellowship for students of color was with a white man, she said. While the board includes people of color, in her experience, it has centered around its white members. One of these members called a Black fellow aggressive in her interview, Bajwa recalled. Reed also cited examples of queerphobia by board members, including an alumnus who refused to use the correct pronouns of fellows.

In the fall of 2020, fellows discussed ideas for the reform of the PHF and drafted a letter to the board. Their letter called for the removal of a board member who has made racist and classist comments, the removal of fellows with allegations of sexual assault or who have not contributed to the fellowship, the removal of the GPA requirement, and increased transparency from the board.

Rather than responding to the fellow’s letter, the PHF board responded to the fellows that they were “deeply disappointed with the inappropriate manner in which you choose to communicate” in an email and informed fellows they may resign if they were displeased. 

A statement from the PHF board stated that the fellowship’s diversity and inclusion were founding principles that are essential to the growth of the fellowship.

 “The PHF Board is committed to dialogue, and made multiple attempts to engage with our Fellows in discussion in the spirit of our founding principles.” the statement read.

Despite this statement, fellows maintain that the board has consistently failed to adapt following dialogue with students.

The alumni board has attempted to spin the situation and say that we did not attempt to discuss this before resigning, and that is not the case. For months before the letter, we attempted to talk about reform for PHF and were ignored,” Reed said. “Once we wrote the letter, the alumni board refused to acknowledge our concerns in writing because they wanted to evade responsibility and be able to manipulate the conversation on their terms.”

Bajwa sees the board’s action of removing the fellows’ Instagram post as another attempt to delegitimize their concerns about the fellowship.

“That just proved that like our decision was right,” she said. “They changed the password, changed the username, deleted the post voicing our concerns and basically just silenced us again.”

For the fellows, the weight of work and burden of mistreatment far outweighs any benefits the fellowship might offer. Now, they warn future students for applying to the fellowship that caused them harm.

“They used our hard work to organize events so that they could come back, drink, and connect with their former classmates. They engaged, drank alcohol, and mingled with one another more than they ever offered to mentor us,” Reed said. “Being in PHF did nothing but drain me.  No one should apply to be a part of an organization that perpetuates such harmful practices.”

Moving forward, all fellowship activities are suspended since no fellows remain part of the program. Weeks since the resignation, Reed is confident in the decision made by the fellows to collectively resign.

“I will no longer allow my labor to be exploited by racist institutions like PHF that do not care about anything but themselves,” she said. 

Sarah Watson
Sarah is the former Spring 2022 Editor-in-Chief and a senior in the SFS studying Regional and Comparative Studies. She is a national park enthusiast and really just wants to talk about mountains.

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