OBSA Leadership Change Raises Questions

The Office of Black Student Affairs (OBSA) is transitioning this week to a new set of leaders, after a sudden and unexplained end to Hughes Suffren’s 11-year tenure as Dean of OBSA raised questions from some students as to the direction of the 7C resource center.

Suffren was placed on administrative leave earlier this semester, after the Claremont University Consortium (CUC) opened an investigation into an allegation against him, according to André Larry PO ’13. Denise Hayes, CUC Vice President for Student Affairs, wrote in an e-mail to The Student Life that Suffren is “no longer the Dean of OBSA,” but she declined to discuss the investigation, citing CUC’s policy on confidentiality.

Hayes also wrote that LaDonte King, the former Academic Skills Coordinator for Black Student Affairs, is also no longer employed by CUC, which oversees OBSA. She declined to comment on the reason for his departure as well.

CUC announced Monday that Clayburn Peters CM ’69 will step in as Interim Dean of Black Student Affairs to replace Suffren. Jason Howie PO ’13 was hired to replace King, and Kim Gadlin PO ’03 was promoted from Coordinator of Student Leadership Programs to Acting Assistant Dean for Black Student Affairs.

Larry, who is the president of the Black Men’s Forum, a student-run 5C organization, said he did not know the details of the charges against Suffren. He added, however, that he and other students who admire Suffren believe that the accusations may be false.

“Not only was he a dean of students, for many of us he went beyond that call,” Larry said of Suffren. “Every year at the first-year retreat that OBSA has the second week of the fall semester, he would tell us that as our dean of students for OBSA, he would be by our side any time we needed him. He would be the one person that we could rely on every time.”

Larry added that the loss of Suffren is a “heavy blow” to many black students at the Claremont Colleges. He said that he had heard “countless stories” of black students who would have transferred out of the 5Cs if Suffren hadn’t been there to provide support.

Peters, the new interim dean, wrote in an email to The Student Life that he was aware of Suffren’s reputation but planned to draw on his own experience rather than emulate Suffren’s example.

“It is not my position to revisit the past,” Peters wrote. “We must [move] forward and deal with… the academic and social needs students now have and which they are likely to have in the future.”

Peters wrote that he is coming to OBSA with a variety of goals. In the short term, for example, he plans to set up communications between OBSA and Army ROTC, and he hopes “to interface with all racial groups here at the Claremont Colleges.” He added that OBSA’s “chief long-term goal” is to move the office to a new facility within the next five years.

“We, no doubt, will be asking students for what kind of academic, study, and social activities they envision for the center, which will determine how the plant and facility should look,” he wrote.

Larry, however, said that he is worried about what he sees as a lack of interest in student concerns. He criticized CUC and college administrators for doing too little to keep students informed about Suffren’s employment status and the future of OBSA. He also questioned the motives of CUC and college administrators and said that they barely acknowledged the departure of OBSA’s leader until weeks after the fact.

“It is very disappointing, but it’s not surprising, that this lack of acknowledgement would happen,” Larry said. He added that the colleges appeared to be making the support system for their black student populations a low priority, as if the only reason for accepting black students was “to look diverse.”

“It may be a privilege to attend an institution, but it is a right, as I see it, once we are here, to be represented, to have that support, and not to have to every time go seek something that should be there for us already,” he said.

According to Hayes, CUC has no plans to abandon the systems of support that students like Larry value in OBSA.

“The first priority for the staff of OBSA is to ensure that students have the support and resources needed for their academic and emotional needs,” she wrote. “Thus putting in place an interim dean, completing the hiring for the academic support coordinator, and ensuring that students are represented in relevant meeting[s] for advocacy have been the top priorities.”

Hayes added that CUC is planning a thorough search process for Suffren’s permanent replacement.

“The process of selecting a new dean will include obtaining input from all individuals concerned about OBSA’s future regarding needs and priorities,” she wrote. “From the input, a job description will be developed and a nationwide search will be conducted. The search committee will consist of faculty, staff, and students who will review applications and make recommendations.”

Hayes said that she could not predict when the search process would be completed.

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