Western students respond to alleged discrimination
Marisa Cardin / Senior Staff Writer
Earlier this week, The Denver Post published two articles which included allegations of discriminatory remarks made by Western President, Dr. Greg Salsbury. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently filed a lawsuit against Jackson National Life Insurance Company, Dr. Salsbury’s former employer, under probable discrimination against female and black employees. This discrimination occurred under recruitment, promotion, and hiring within the company, which has over 5,000 employees.
Seven plaintiffs accused Jackson supervisors of making racist and discriminatory remarks. The plaintiffs were all black, and were allegedly denied promotions and bonuses throughout their years at Jackson, and were demeaned and fired when this information was brought forward.
Dr. Greg Salsbury, President of Western State Colorado University, was accused of allegedly making such discriminatory comments. At the time, he was the Executive Vice President of Distribution for Jackson. When two of the seven plaintiffs asked him about the possibility of external wholesaler openings, which would have ultimately led to higher salaries, Dr. Salsbury is alleged to have replied that “it was unheard of for black employees to make over $100,000.” Jackson also closed its office in Atlanta, a closing that was apparently the result of the hiring pool being “too black,” according to an alleged statement made by Dr. Salsbury.
In a recent email statement to Top, Dr. Salsbury stressed the importance of diversity within Western specifically. “I just wanted you to know that the allegations of my remarks are absolutely false and do not reflect the commitment to diversity that I bring to Western every day,” Dr. Salsbury wrote.
Top reached out to students and faculty alike to hear their opinions on the matter. Members of the Multicultural Center were approached, due in part to their dedication to exploring and celebrating different cultures and races. When asked about their initial responses to Dr. Salsbury’s alleged comments, this is what they had to say.
Santiago Sierra, sophomore at Western, said that he was “surprised to hear of the situation, especially considering the president’s extensive resume. The allegations made against him are really shocking, because he’s one of the people trying to promote diversity on campus.” Sierra said that these allegations weren’t helping the president’s cause. “Dr. Salsbury serves Western,” he said. “If it’s true, kids aren’t going to brush this off.”
Another member of the Multicultural Center, who wished to remain anonymous, said that the situation would create more barriers. “Hearing this news will just mean that students of color will have to prove themselves more, even if they’re afraid to stick out. I wasn’t shocked to hear about this, especially after the results of the election,” they continued, revealing that rhetoric like this was nothing new to them. “I’ve experienced discrimination before at Western. I was walking home and some people called out and told me to ‘go back where I came from’. It made me feel unsafe, and it makes me feel uncomfortable sometimes being the only person of color in class, or in my major. [Hearing this news] makes me question if this campus is even taking diversity into account,” said the anonymous student.
Gary Pierson, the Vice President for Student Affairs, responded through an email to Top regarding the alleged incident. “The events of the past week related to the Jackson National lawsuit have been troubling for the campus community,” Pierson wrote. “President Salsbury has emphasized in our discussions that his former employer, Jackson National Life and not Dr. Salsbury himself, is being sued. Nevertheless, these events affect us. I want to affirm that we, as an institution, not only welcome having a diverse and inclusive community, but that this is integral to our purpose and mission,” he continued. “Western has the mission to provide opportunity for all our students to meet their potential in their studies, careers, and lives. And we are better when our educational community includes diverse voices from diverse backgrounds. This is who we are. We need to continue to work toward and be vigilant with respect to these principles,” Pierson wrote
“If what Salsbury said is true, I’d be worried for the safety of people of color here,” Top’s anonymous interviewee said, when asked how this situation could affect future or current students of Western. “Parents are going to question the school’s values and we’d potentially have more students transferring out of Western. There will be angry parents, and angry students. The Multicultural Center is a safe zone,” they explained, “where we can be free and be ourselves. I don’t want people to see Western as a racist community. If what he said is true, it shows that discrimination is still alive and strong. But if it isn’t true, I want the president to be more involved with diversity on campus!”
“If the allegations against Dr. Salsbury are true,” Santiago said, “students are going to think that [discriminatory comments] are okay… because the president has already done it. It’s just going to further encourage racism.”
Takano Salat, a junior at Western who had joined the conversation halfway through the interview, agreed immediately, “we’d be represented by someone with those [discriminatory] thoughts. I don’t want that.”
Sierra agreed. “I hope these allegations aren’t true, I don’t want them to be true. It just makes another reason for students to be discriminatory towards each other. It justifies that behavior.”
In Pierson’s email to Top, he encouraged the Western community to provide positive and welcoming messages to each other, despite the situation. “We want to affirm and ensure that our students, staff, and colleagues understand that we value their importance as a part of what we do, no matter their background,” Pierson wrote. “This is our mission, and integral to who we are.”
Dr. Salsbury, similarly, concluded his statement with a note of his pride at Western’s diversity. “Upon my arrival, I spearheaded our new strategic plan which specifically established improved diversity as one of the key initiatives – and I am very pleased that we have made increases in diversity of the student population each year since. My sincere hope is that this will not distract us from our progress.”
For follow up information, visit http://top-o-the-world.com/ between now and Top’s next print issue, released on Feb. 17.