The Liberty University Underground Railroad

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LeeQuan McLaurin

After Jerry Falwell Jr. posted a racist tweet, LeeQuan McLaurin, a director of diversity retention at Liberty, resigned in protest. Now, according to a piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education, McLaurin has created an “LUnderground Railroad” to “raise money for Liberty University employees who want to leave but can’t afford to.” Here is a taste of The Chronicle piece:

In an interview Tuesday, McLaurin, a 2015 graduate of Liberty, said he’s worked in three offices there and that microaggressions are common. He said a supervisor in a student-advising office advised one of McLaurin’s colleagues not to get his hair styled in dreadlocks “because it doesn’t look professional.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, the “LUnderground Railroad” GoFundMe page had raised more than $5,300 toward its $30,000 goal. McLaurin said he’s heard from many employees who want to leave but are afraid they won’t be able to support their families, given Lynchburg’s shortage of available housing and high poverty rates.

Liberty, a private evangelical college, is a major employer in Lynchburg. It has around 46,000 undergraduates and an enrollment of more than 100,000 when online students are included.

“What weighs most heavily on me is not that I don’t have a job — I know God will provide for me — but hearing colleagues tear up because they want to leave, but they can’t afford to,” McLaurin said.

As director of diversity retention, he was a staff member in Liberty’s Office of Equity and Inclusion, and oversaw efforts to keep minority and other underrepresented students enrolled. He said that between 2007 and 2018, Liberty’s residential undergraduate African American population dropped from 10 percent to 4 percent. A Liberty spokesman declined to confirm or refute those figures.

Among the employees who have left recently is Keyvon Scott, a 2019 Liberty graduate who had been working as an admissions counselor for the university’s sprawling online program.

“The mask was just the tipping point,” he said on Tuesday. “As an admissions officer, I’m supposed to be promoting Liberty, especially when an African American calls and asks about diversity.” Scott, who said he was often the only African American person in his classes, said he could no longer do that.

Scott said some people lashed out at him for leaving and not sticking around and fighting back. “The thing is, I had to leave,” he said. “That’s how I take a stand.”

Read the entire piece here.

Here is the official statement from the LUnderground website:

Help staff and faculty at LU suffering from racial trauma and unable to leave due to financial restraints. 

No one should be subject to racial and workplace trauma (https://bit.ly/RacialTrauma  ) in order to earn a living. Liberty University, while for many is a beacon for believers, for others, it may be just a source of stable income within the Lynchburg area. Lynchburg is a city that is well known for its struggle with poverty. Economic issues include a lack of affordable housing, lack of significant economic growth, and a poverty rate that is nearly 7 percentage points higher than other Virginia cities (with the poverty rate of Black people being nearly double that of white people in the city) (https://bit.ly/LYHPoverty  ). 

With Liberty University as one of the major employers of the city, it naturally has attracted many employees, a fair portion of whom are Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC). While there is a lot to be said and debated about Liberty’s ‘economic impact’ on Lynchburg, and the surrounding areas, that is a discussion for another time. And trust me, there will be another time. While at the university many employees have experienced incidents of discrimination, prejudice, and general racial trauma. This institution has yet to grapple with its long-standing issues relating to racism and has consistently placed the burden of coping with the effects stemming from such on their BIPOC employees. 

The institution will often trust in, and has ultimately abused, their financial influence on the Lynchburg area in order to ignore their responsibility for racial and workplace trauma that is inflicted on BIPOC employees. A common statement that is heard around the university is “If you don’t like it here, then leave.” Most people in Lynchburg know that with the city’s economic state, the solution is not always as simple as leaving. Rather than work to make the university a healthier and safer work environment for its employees, the institution would rather ask people to either endure the racial and workplace trauma or leave.

Due to a strong culture of fear that exists within the university, many employees are afraid to speak out and share their experiences (https://bit.ly/FearCulture  ). Even more are afraid to leave due to fear that they would be unable to financially support their families. Several employees have attempted to file reports, but since the university often refuses to acknowledge the existence of very real things such as systemic racism, they have either been ignored or faced retaliatory consequences. 

As I explained when I turned in my letter of resignation, no one at LU understands what it is like to be a Black man working at a conservative evangelical predominantly white institution, and to then be faced with constant instances of racism (big and small alike), as you’re also fighting to change campus culture, while simultaneously hearing of yet another one of our brothers or sisters who have been murdered, and will not see justice, AND on top of all of that to deal with our own institutional issues only to have my hands completely tied. *breathe, I know that was a lot* 

Since announcing my resignation, so many colleagues, peers, students, alumni, and strangers have reached out to me. Most of these interactions have been pretty positive. However, the ones that haven’t been, have made the biggest impact on me. Several Black colleagues have shared that they wished they could leave as well, but they have families and/or financial responsibilities that force them to remain at LU. A few with tears in their eyes. Hurting. They know that they just have to swallow this hurt and pain, while also grieving with the rest of their community because their livelihoods rely on it. Some have already left, and have shared they have no idea how they are going to pay their rent come July, let alone other basic life necessities. Let’s not even talk about how the reputation of the university has hindered their prospects with future employers. 

This isn’t right. Since I left, so many people have chosen to graciously donate their hard-earned dollars (in the midst of a pandemic and economic recession, mind you) to me. This overwhelming display of the good to be found in humanity has confirmed for me that God is in the midst of this. He is tired of his children being oppressed. Furthermore, He is tired of people using His name to accomplish this. 

This fund is being set up for all the LU employees that would like to leave, but are afraid of how it will affect them financially. Those conflicted with their identity as BIPOC, but also need to make a living through a tough economic situation. Not a penny of this money will go to me. God has already been more than gracious to me. It will be divided amongst the BIPOC employees who have already left, or need to leave, but are unable to leave due to financial issues. The goal is to assist at least 15 former LU employees (although there are many more) with $2,000 each ($30,000) which can help many through at least a month of basic expenses–a month where they can focus their efforts on searching for a workplace that will provide a safe, supportive environment where they can thrive as BIPOC, and leave behind a toxic, unhealthy workplace that never did. Any amount that you give will be greatly appreciated.

To be eligible for the emergency relief funds, employees must have experienced racial trauma at the hands of the university and resigned from their positions due to it. Those wishing to apply for the funds should email lundergroundrailroad@gmail.com. I will be posting updates about employees able to be helped and served by these funds.