EMPORIA — It was five years ago that Emporia State University students first marched in support for Angelica and Melvin Hale, two School of Library and Information Management employees who said university administrators ignored their complaints that Angelica was targeted by a racial slur.
After losing their jobs, the Hales, who are Black, would later launch two federal discrimination lawsuits against the university. Representing themselves, the Hales lost Melvin Hale’s case in a jury trial, but in Angelica Hale’s case in July 2019, a judge ruled against the university and granted Angelica $63,000 in back pay in August.
But the Hales say that amount doesn’t cover the full scope of the fallout after Angelica Hale lost her job, and on Tuesday — five years to the day after that first march — students and Emporia community members marched again in protest of what they called an inadequate judgment and insufficient change at the university level to address issues of diversity.
"We’re still calling on the administration to do the right thing, to end the false narrative that they had and launch a full, fair and thorough investigation," Melvin Hale said, calling in by phone to the march since the couple now lives in Nevada. "There’s too many instances here where the investigation was wrong where they say there wasn’t a hate crime.
"I guess if I were using their definition of a hate crime, (I’d say) there wasn’t a hate crime, either. But the reality is that their definition, from the very get-go, of what a hate crime was is egregious and it does not comport with what the FBI calls a hate crime."
In her lawsuit, Angelica Hale charged that Emporia State officials did not seriously investigate her claims of a hate crime when she found a notebook with a racial slur written in it in her office. She had been working as an assistant to School of Library Information and Management dean Gwen Alexander.
Alexander had previously planned to hire Angelica Hale a job as a marketing coordinator for the school. But a federal judge determined that Alexander retaliated against her after the Hales complained about the notebook to university administration. Alexander would also eliminate Angelica Hale’s temporary position, and Melvin Hale would later be dismissed from his job as an assistant professor at the school.
In the past five years, Emporia State has launched a variety of diversity and inclusion efforts, said university spokeswoman Gwen Larson. In late 2015, Emporia State launched its University Diversity and Inclusion Alliance, and in January 2017, the university added "become a model for diversity, equity and inclusion" to its 10-year strategic plan, first adopted in 2015. Last year, the university hired Aswad Allen as chief diversity officer.
"(Diversity and inclusion work) has permeated the entire campus," Larson said. "It’s not just in faculty or in hiring. Diversity and inclusion touches all areas of life and campus."
But the Hales said that work has been too little, especially when they have still been suffering the effects of losing their jobs. The couple, for a time, lived out of their car in California, and they have still struggled to find employment in the field elsewhere, they said.
"The bottom line here is, the school, the university needs to stop promoting itself as a model of diversity and inclusion and putting forth phrases like ’Humanity First’ when they haven’t dealt with what they did to us," Melvin Hale said. "Are we not human?"
Members of Emporia Community Action, an organization that works to address oppression in the community, led the march Tuesday.
"We may look like a bunch of radicals out here doing good trouble, as John Lewis would say," said Jay Vehige, a community organizer with the group. "But really, we’re out here because it’s important for us to make sure that the children that we have —from our community that go here, our Latino and Black brothers and sisters, and all other minorities, as well as all members of this community — have an equal and equitable experience here, and we know that’s not happening."
Vehige said the group wants full justice for the Hales, which it considers to be approval of the Hales’ full legal claims and accountability for university administrators.
Jason Alston, an assistant professor in the University of Missouri’s School of Information Science and Learning Technologies, made the trip to Emporia to show solidarity with the Hales, as he said the library and information science field has a significant issue with cultural competency.
Without Melvin Hale teaching, there could be as few as five Black male educators in the library and information science field across the nation, Alston estimated.
"We’re at a moment where if we can’t stand for and support the Hale family, then the repercussions throughout the field are going to be drastic for practitioners and educators of color," he said.
The Hales, who have represented themselves in court, have filed a motion asking Judge Daniel Crabtree to reconsider his decision on the original $48,312 in back pay and $15,991 in interest judgment amount. Emporia State, represented by the state attorney general, is opposing the motion.