A licensed social worker who unsuccessfully applied for a professorship at Bridgewater State University last summer has sued the college, after she was allegedly asked to defend her ‘whiteness’ during an interview.
Donna Johnston, a therapist in Plainfield, Connecticut, filed the race and employment discrimination suit in Massachusetts Superior Court last week, claiming she was subject to a racist interview when she applied for an assistant professorship position at the state-run school’s social work department in June.
Johnston, who did not get the job, says that she was asked a series of jarring questions about her ‘whiteness’ during the interview, presided over by an associate professor who has since left the university.
Johnston, 54, says she was asked to contemplate her ‘white privilege’ and ‘defend her whiteness’ by the staffer, and says she was told that ‘black students may not be able to relate to you because of your white privilege,’ according to the suit – which demands a jury trial and $50,000 in damages.
According to the school, Johnston’s answer – which saw her acknowledge her white privilege to the interviewer, the filing says – ‘missed the target.’
Donna Johnston, 54, alleges her ‘whiteness’ cost her a job at the university
The social worker, meanwhile, attests that her qualifications exceeded those of three female applicants the School of Social Work ended up hiring in the weeks after her interview.
Two of the women hired were white and one was black, according to the school.
She argues that her so-called ‘whiteness’ cost her the job, and hopes that the suit will shine a light on other instances of ‘reverse racism.’
‘How I was treated during the interview was wrong,’ Johnston told The Boston Globe Wednesday of the suit.
‘I’m probably not the only one who has endured something like this. Maybe they haven’t spoken up. So, if nothing else, maybe I will give people the courage and the strength to come forward.’
She told the Globe she expected questions on her decades of clinical practice, field work, and teaching experience at Southern New Hampshire University and Virginia Commonwealth University – not about the color of her skin.
Johnson’s lawyer, Scott Lathrop, added: ‘If somebody had said to a black applicant, let’s talk about your blackness, or how does your blackness affect something, there’d be outrage.’
The school, meanwhile, says that Johnston ‘lacked expertise and live classroom experience and failed to present herself as student focused’ in the interview, resulting in the school to appoint the other candidates.
‘Any possibility of discriminatory motive is contradicted by the fact that the university ultimately hired two caucasians,’ the college said in the statement. The third hire, the university said, was a black woman.
The school says that Johnston ‘lacked expertise and live classroom experience and failed to present herself as student focused’ in the interview
The school would not release the identity of the School of Social work staffers.
The filing comes less than a month after a formal complaint filed by Johnston against the school with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) was withdrawn, state records show.
It is not currently clear what new evidence in the case has come to light since the complaint was nixed, spurred last week’s filing.
The white privilege question, posed by the associate professor in Bridgewater State’s School of Social Work, was meant to give Johnston an ‘opportunity to show… how she would use her experience and teaching skills to overcome a common obstacle as a social worker and teacher,’ the university said in a 29-page position statement on the MCAD claim February 1.
The school says that race played no factor in their decision to go with the other candidates.
When contacted by DailyMail.com Thursday morning for comment regarding the suit, a spokeswoman for the university said in an email that ‘Bridgewater State University does not comment on personnel or pending legal matters.’
The school says that race played no factor in their decision to go with the other candidates