Choosing Safety Over Tenure: Elon University Professor Quits over Racism

Nicolás Narváez Soza and Robin Attas Photo courtesy Nicolás Narváez Soza. The News & Observer.

A recent piece for Inside Higher Ed highlighted the decision of tenure track professor Robin Attas to leave her position at Elon University in North Carolina and move to Canada. This decision was reached after a series of off-campus, racially charged incidents led to concerns for the safety of Dr. Attas’ husband, who is of Nicaraguan decent. She explained that “it was clear for me that I could choose between my job and my husband’s life. I chose my husband.”

I was struck by this piece because it was the first time I had heard of a faculty member taking such drastic measures. Upon reading it, I was even more intrigued, as the woman involved is a professor at Elon University, a university that enjoys a stellar reputation as a leading institution on international education. It’s also a university I will be visiting in five weeks – as I have for the past two summers – to work with a team of scholars exploring global learning outcomes.

And yet, Attas’s experience really could happen at any college or university.

It is obviously sad and troubling that Professor Attas’s family would feel so uneasy and unsafe that she would give up a tenure track job to move to Canada. It is a loss for her students, her colleagues near and far, and her field. The racism and xenophobia that led to her family’s decision have always been present, but unfortunately, in our country’s current political climate, those that hold these views seem more and more empowered to voice them. This has happened and is happening on university campuses around the country – stories from Baylor and American University are recent examples involving students.

While there has been a great deal of attention given to how universities should deal with these types of issues on their campuses, much less attention has gone to understanding how professors and students (particularly those of color or other marginalized groups) might be treated when they are off campus – perhaps that should change. As Elon’s president Leo Lambert says “discrimination and acts of bias are rooted in ignorance. It’s our responsibility as a university community to reach beyond the borders of our campus....”

How are incidents of racism and xenophobia being handled at your university? Tell us about your experiences.

Read the full article in Inside Higher Ed.