Lacey Rogers

Lacey Rogers, former interim director at UCM

The first woman of color to lead United Campus Ministry says her abrupt dismissal only a few months after being appointed interim director followed a pattern of unfair treatment charged with implicit racial bias.

In December 2020 Lacey Rogers, a queer Black woman, accepted a six-month position as interim director of the small nonprofit known for its free community meals, commitment to social justice and interfaith programming for the Athens and Ohio University communities.

At that point, Rogers had been with UCM for 15 years, serving as a volunteer, board member and an intern. When she took the interim director position, she had been assistant director for two years.

“It’s where my activism roots kind of got started,” she said. “As somebody who does not particularly adhere to a specific religion, the idea of actively suggesting that other religions could be right, or multiple things could be right, or we could all not know anything was definitely very appealing to me.”

She was formally terminated from the position on March 19, 2021 — news she received via a mediator, who had been notified by the board’s attorney. Rogers says that during her three months as interim director, the UCM board treated her differently than her predecessor, a white man, and believes that the difference stemmed from racial bias.

UCM has yet to respond in detail to Rogers’ allegations of racism, which she first leveled publicly in an Aug. 22 Facebook post. Current board members Christopher Quolke and Natalie Wilson, along with UCM’s new director, Mickey Hart, declined to comment for this article. Other current board members did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

A difficult three months

Rogers experienced frustrations as assistant director, which she said came primarily through issues with the former executive director, Evan Young. Young resigned as UCM’s executive director in October 2020.

Rogers said she discussed her experiences and other concerns with UCM’s board before accepting the position as interim director and felt the discussions were positive.

Yet when she received her contract on Dec. 7, 2020, it was accompanied by a collective statement from the board: “We offer this salary and position with some reservations... We do not offer this salary and position based on your current performance... We do not think you have been working at the level UCM needs during this time frame.”

Rogers was offered $21,500 over a 6-month period. The board’s statement said this was the “very top of what UCM is able to afford,” citing “financial exigency.” (Rogers said she was paid for the full contract period.)

Rogers said she did not understand this reference to her past performance, as she only received one performance evaluation during her time as assistant director and no major issues had been presented.

Chett Pritchett, a member of the UCM board from January 2019 to July 2020 who has several years of nonprofit experience, said UCM’s lack of organizational processes to evaluate paid staff and the board itself was one of the primary frustrations that led him to resign from the board.

Pritchett also was surprised that the board would offer Rogers a leadership position and salary “with reservations.”

“As someone who has worked in nonprofits for many years as well as served on a couple of different nonprofit boards, I would never make an offer to someone for a job with reservations,” Pritchett said. “When you’re on a board of directors and you’re seeking someone — whether it’s an interim position, or, you know, a permanent position — I would always be very confident in my selection of someone.”

Rogers said the board began to impose a significant oversight of the position almost immediately after she accepted it.

In a Dec. 20 communication, the board outlined a process for “collaborative supervision” of UCM’s office manager by both Rogers and the board. Rogers’ contract, signed one week earlier, identified supervision of the office manager as Rogers’ responsibility.

The following month, Rogers was asked to keep an hour-by-hour log of her work and to share it with the board.

Such a level of board oversight was unprecedented, said Pritchett, who called these processes “micromanaging.”

“When I was on the board and Evan [Young] was the executive director, that was not typical behavior at all,” Pritchett said.

Notes from a Feb. 8 meeting between Rogers and board members state that “the Board acknowledged” that Rogers “receives different treatment” than Young received.

The notes suggest the board was concerned about Rogers’ not completing certain job duties. The notes specifically refer to Rogers’ not sending a message about interviews for UCM’s re-envisioning process and not completing a grant application.

According to the meeting notes, Rogers said she felt the re-envisioning process “was largely taken over by board members” and that she did not finish the grant application in question because she “did not feel well and was not in a position to finish the grant.” Rogers said she also did not pursue the grant because she felt specifications in the grant were inappropriate for a nondenominational organization.

Rogers said she took two weeks of sick leave beginning Jan. 23 “due to the ongoing stress of these microaggressions and all these other things.”

In addition to concerns about oversight and differential treatment, Rogers said board members made multiple comments to her that carried implicit bias, including suggestions that she should show more enthusiasm.

Rogers also said she was not given account passwords she needed to conduct her work effectively and received inconsistent paychecks, which went unexplained for several weeks despite Rogers’ inquiries.

Rogers’ termination

Melissa Wales — who worked for UCM from 1999 to 2017, including 12 years as executive director — said she was involved in discussions with both Rogers and the UCM board about Rogers’ situation and was disappointed by the outcome.

“I was surprised and heartbroken by the way things played out. But white supremacy is entrenched in all our institutions, even those with social justice at the core of their mission, unfortunately,” Wales said in an email.

Wales and former UCM Office Manager Jennifer Kelly condemned UCM’s treatment of Rogers in an op-ed published in The Athens Messenger on Aug. 19 and in the Aug. 30 edition of The Athens NEWS.

Andrea Reany, who served on the UCM board for multiple years before leaving on March 12 — only days before Rogers’ termination — also expressed disappointment.

“As a former board member, I have empathy for the current board members, because all of us white people make bad decisions like that,” Reany said in a Facebook message. “I am definitely not above it. But more so, my heart goes out to Lacey, who has certainly suffered the most by losing her job and faith in an organization she cared about. I wish things were very different, for her sake and for UCM’s sake.”

UCM’s future

In an email to donors, volunteers and stakeholders on Sept. 22, 2021, the UCM board acknowledged public concerns about Rogers’ termination and discussed the organization’s path forward.

“What we can share is that the Board of Directors, individually and collectively, are committed to further examining systemic racism and associated biases and attitudes in our lives, in society, and at UCM,” the email stated. “Our first step in this thoughtful process of change is to hire a diversity and inclusion consulting group to work with us for the remainder of the academic year and longer if necessary. We anticipate this consultation will involve several trainings, book readings, discussions, assessments, and policy enhancements.”

The email also said UCM was seeking to expand its board over the coming years with an eye toward increasing diversity.

Wales is skeptical that UCM’s work with a consultant will yield the results she believes are necessary.

“Given their unfair treatment of [Rogers], I do not have much faith that hiring a consultant will do much of anything to address this serious internal systemic problem,” Wales said in an email. “It seems performative to me.”

Pritchett also expressed doubts about the organization’s current approach.

“I hope that UCM can figure its way in the future, and that includes a commitment to antiracist principles, but it also needs to be done in the action of antiracist principles,” Pritchett said. “Based on my previous experience with the board, I don’t have don’t have strong faith that the action piece is quite there yet.”

Rogers also is unconvinced.

“It’s great that they finally, you know, came to that conclusion, but to me, if there was a true commitment to that, it wouldn’t have taken this long to get to the conclusion of doing that,” Rogers said. “So it definitely continues to feel very performative.”

Accountability, Rogers said, would have to include removing the board members who oversaw her work and her termination.

“The closest thing [to accountability] that could happen at this point would be for the board to not be in those positions anymore,” Rogers said. “I don’t think that they honored the mission of the organization at the time, and I don’t think that they currently are either in their actions or their handling of the situation.”

Less than one week after the Sept. 22 email, the board announced it had selected a new director: Mickey Hart, a white man who oversaw Ohio University’s LGBT Center for 11 years.

According to UCM’s Indeed posting for the director position, last revised in June, the salary range for Hart’s position was $50,000 to $60,000. That’s 16.3% to 39.5% more than Rogers’ pay (based on the six-month salary offer of $21,500).

While Hart declined to comment on Rogers’ termination, he said UCM is continuing its re-envisioning process.

“I don’t think our core mission and vision will change,” Hart said. “That’s been a long-term strength of UCM. But in terms of PR and outreach, some of those things may change.”

UCM has not yet identified consultants to help the organization explore issues related to racial bias, in part due to challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Hart said. He said UCM’s process for addressing issues of racial bias will depend upon the eventual consultant’s recommendation.

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