The ongoing turmoil at KHSU reached a new level Monday evening as the station’s office manager, Lorna Bryant, sent an email to university administrators alleging that at a recent staff meeting she “was subjected to abusive behavior” from Vice President for University Advancement Craig Wruck.
“I was yelled at; I felt disrespected; and there were consistent attempts to keep me from speaking,” Bryant says in the email, which was first published by the Mad River Union. She goes on to say, “As the only African American woman on staff at KHSU … it’s quite troubling to receive such treatment from a university administrator.”
The incident left Bryant fearful of another interaction with Wruck, according to the email, which goes on to reference tense race relations across the country:
With the current national climate against people of color, I am regularly concerned about the treatment and personal attacks I may encounter in public. … I never once expected to be afraid of attacks from HSU administrators…and in my place of employment, no less.
Reached by phone this afternoon, Wruck said he attended the July 11 KHSU staff meeting as a special guest to address some issues that have come up since the highly controversial firing of popular longtime Program Director Katie Whiteside in May. He told staff at the meeting that General Manager Peter Fretwell, who’s been widely cast as the villain for terminating Whiteside, remained in his position and that staff is obliged to follow his direction.
Wruck was also there to tell employees that in light of some recent violations of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules, HSU President Lisa Rossbacher was considering asking California State University officials for an advisory review of the station. (She has since done so. You can read her request by clicking here.)
“It was a difficult discussion and it got heated at times,” Wruck told the Outpost. He said both he and Bryant talked over each other at times, and he apologized to Bryant at the end of the meeting.
Asked if race played a role in his behavior Wruck said, “I don’t think so, but as a white man I always want to be sensitive to those things. If it felt that way to her I need to understand that. It certainly wasn’t my intention, but that’s not the point.”
Bryant’s account is a bit different. She said Wruck told employees at the meeting that they needed to dispel rumors about the station that were circulating in letters to the editor and on social media, and when several staff members resisted Wruck got angry.
“He went on to attack various staff members,” Bryant said. In the ensuing argument, she said, Wruck tried to stop her from speaking several times, and she doesn’t remember him apologizing.
“He didn’t even halfway apologize,” she said. “At the end of the meeting he said something to the effect of, ‘Maybe next time I won’t have to yell at Lorna.’ It was like an offhanded apology.”
We asked Bryant to talk more about why she invoked race in her email. Does she feel Wruck behaved as he did because of her race?
“I would not go as far as to say that,” Bryant responded. “But for someone who understands sensitivity training and equity and respect and proper decorum, that wasn’t reflected in his encounter with all of us.”
Bryant said she has not yet filed a grievance with the university’s Human Resources department but intends to do so.
Her email mentions Wruck’s work with the Humboldt Area Foundation’s Equity Alliance of the North Coast and suggests that it was hypocritical for him to behave as he did. And while Bryant doesn’t necessarily feel Wruck’s behavior was motivated by race, she believes the larger social context matters.
“And when I say that I’m not in any way suggesting that you have to treat people of color with kid gloves,” she said. “You should treat everyone with the same level of respect.”
Wruck said he was surprised by Bryant’s description of their heated exchange only because it’s not what he intended. “But clearly I made her feel that way, so I need to apologize,” he said.
Bryant sent the email to Rossbacher and officials higher up in the California State University system, and she cc’ed a number of high-ranking people, including state Senator Mike McGuire and John Driscoll, Congressman Jared Huffman’s local field representative.
Bryant announced in May that she plans to run for a seat on the Arcata City Council this fall. Today she confirmed that despite the turbulence at KHSU and the resulting extra work, she’s “absolutely” still running.
KHSU’s Community Advisory Board will hold its monthly meeting Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in the Student & Business Services building, room 405. Both Wruck and Bryant said they plan to be in attendance.
Read Bryant’s email below:
From: Lorna Bryant <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Mon, Jul 23, 2018 at 6:37 PM
Subject: July 11th KHSU Staff meeting
To: lisaann.rossbacher <email@example.com>, <firstname.lastname@example.org>, <email@example.com>, hsuhr <firstname.lastname@example.org>, <email@example.com>
Cc: John Driscoll <John.Driscoll@mail.house.gov>, Senator Mike McGuire <firstname.lastname@example.org>, <email@example.com>, Barbara O’Connor <firstname.lastname@example.org>
President Rossbacher, et al,
I was recently traumatized by an encounter at my place of work. It’s taken me over a week to process the experience and I have just reached a point of comfort to discuss it.
On July 11, 2018 during a weekly KHSU staff meeting, I was subjected to abusive behavior from Craig Wruck, HSU University Advancement vice president. I was yelled at; I felt disrespected; and there were consistent attempts to keep me from speaking. A majority of station staff was present during this most uncomfortable exchange. When this happened, no one intervened on my behalf — not even the KHSU general manager. This type of treatment from a high level administrator was/is both shocking and offensive.
As the only African American woman on staff at KHSU, and the entire University Advancement division, it’s quite troubling to receive such treatment from a university administrator. The behavior from the university’s 2nd in command made me quite uncomfortable and fearful of further interaction with Craig Wruck. With the current national climate against people of color, I am regularly concerned about the treatment and personal attacks I may encounter in public. The recent uptick of members of the public calling police on African Americans for ‘African Americaning‘ — just going about daily life — makes me cautious to interact with unfamiliar people in my community. I never once expected to be afraid of attacks from HSU administrators…and in my place of employment, no less. What’s most shocking and disappointing is the fact that Craig Wruck previously worked with Humboldt Area Foundation’s Equity Alliance of the North Coast, whose goal is:
“…understanding and improving racial and social equity through education, dialogue, and coaching for organizations and individuals.”
Craig Wruck has recently expressed desire to collaborate with Equity Arcata‘s Ourcata: Equity Communication and Education working group, of which I am the group leader. It leads me to question how someone who supposedly has an interest in ensuring our community is welcoming, respectful and inclusive to all people can then be outright abusive and demeaning to their lone African American subordinate.
I am seeking guidance on what steps to take next. I truly love public radio and I am gratified to contribute to KHSU in many capacities — from public affairs to music; working administratively and collaboratively with our volunteers and fellow staff; and lastly, through my connections on campus and throughout the community in which I live, work and play.
Thank you advance for whatever guidance, assistance or counsel you may offer. I look forward to your response.