Brown entered the program that year with high hopes: she wanted to do extensive research on code-switching and diversity and inclusion, earn a doctorate, and become a college professor teaching organizational behavior.
But a year into the five-year program, Brown said his plans were derailed when teachers left doctoral program, saying he was no longer a good fit.
“I was just in disbelief at first and then it was a tremendous psychological and emotional distress,” Brown told CNN. “It was heartwarming.”
Brown is suing the university, three of her former professors and the UNC Board of Governors in federal court, alleging that some faculty and school officials discriminated against her because she is Black and a woman.
UNC officials declined to comment on Brown’s lawsuit.
“We are aware of these allegations, but cannot comment on the pending litigation at this time,” UNC spokesman Pace Sagester said in an email. “UNC-Chapel Hill strives to provide a positive educational experience for all of our students.”
Brown said the forced removal reflects a pattern of systemic racism at the school. She wants the teachers named in the lawsuit to be held accountable for their actions and to receive more training on diversity and inclusion.
“This is really awesome,” says Brown
Brown’s lawsuit describes a chain of events that led to her reporting alleged discrimination to university officials and her expulsion from the doctoral program.
According to the complaint, Brown asked her professors for scheduling accommodations “including possible extensions on research projects” after she said she was raped and sexually assaulted twice in 2020 by a male acquaintance. Brown says he also shared with teachers that he experienced a pre-existence. post-traumatic stress disorder and that he documented it in his enrollment record. The PTSD was exacerbated by the alleged sexual assault, the suit says. Brown said she was given extensions, but the professors named in the lawsuit warned that she missed what Brown describes as a non-mandatory seminar because she had a court date to obtain a protective order against the man she says raped her.
Brown tried to press criminal charges against her rapist, but Durham officials declined because it was a “no frills” case, according to her attorney. CNN has reached out to Durham police for comment.
The lawsuit also alleges that Brown had several disagreements with teachers, among others an approach to research such as code-switching with African Americans; the person they would hire to join their research team; and funding sources for research projects. The complaint also alleges that Brown received a “Pass” grade in an introductory course at the end of his first semester at UNC, while his classmates received a “High Pass.” Brown says she was the only black woman in the class.
In June 2021, Brown reported “what he believed to be a pattern of discriminatory behavior within his program” to the business school’s Diversity and Inclusion program, the lawsuit states. That month, she also filed a discrimination complaint with the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity.
During an academic review conducted on Zoom in July 2021, Brown said her professors reported that multiple professors complained about her frequent requests for extensions, that she was not making academic progress and that she had burned bridges with professors, according to the lawsuit. Brown professors said she had no way to advance in the doctoral program and could leave in May 2022 with a master’s degree, which Brown eventually did, the suit says.
The lawsuit alleges that Brown’s improper review was “retaliation” for the discrimination reports she filed the previous month.
Brown’s attorney, Artur Davis, told CNN that his client had good grades, excellent research and was “successful by any measure,” but the university dropped him from the doctoral program.
Davis said the lawsuit is necessary to hold organizations that treat black people unfairly more accountable.
“Discrimination happens in this world because people think they can get away with it,” Davis said. “It tells this organization that it thinks the world is watching, that people are watching and that they’re scrutinizing your behavior that you’re untouchable.”
“UNC needs a self-examination,” he added.
Brown said that in addition to liability for the teachers named in the lawsuit, he is seeking damages for emotional distress, mental anguish and lost earnings.
“This is more than just gross negligence, this is extremely egregious,” Brown said. “To be complicit in these behaviors of these faculty it sends a message that all teachers can treat students this way and it will still be okay.”
Brown, 28, said decommitting from UNC has been a setback for his career. “I lost two years in the job market,” he said.
This year he was able to enroll in another doctoral program at Cornell University and says he will graduate in 2027.
The university has come under fire in recent years for its record on diversity and inclusion
Clark called Brown “brave” for suing and defending himself.
“We are constantly concerned with the need to be a voice for equity on campus and we don’t necessarily see it reflected in our administration or within our campus systems,” Clark said. “I hope (Brown’s lawsuit) will force the administration, and specifically the business school and other schools at this university, to reflect not only on how they treat black students but what they can do better.”