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Chicano Studies chair gets demoted for unprofessional behavior, supporters cry ‘racism’

‘Simply cannot have members of leadership behaving in such a manner as you displayed’

The now-former chairman of the Metropolitan State University of Denver Chicano Studies Department recently was demoted from her position for inappropriate and unprofessional behavior, and now her supporters are crying “racism.”

Professor Adriana Nieto officially was relieved of her chairmanship on December 5 by College of Letters, Arts and Sciences Dean John Masserini.

Westword reports “the final straw” was Nieto berating “student employees and administration” over a tuition discount for her son, and “how it’s unfair that [the Human Resources Dept.] gets to work from home.”

Nieto “rudely” told HR employees “no one [in their dept.] works or knows what they’re doing,” was “hitting [a] desk,” and within earshot of nearby students said “if she could pay tuition” she wouldn’t even send her son to MSU, according to the report.

“It goes without saying that this behavior is inappropriate for anyone working at MSU Denver, much less an academic leader and department chair,” Masserini wrote in a message to Nieto (pictured). “I simply cannot have members of CLAS leadership behaving in such a manner as you displayed on November 8. Due to this, I am removing you as chair.”

Adriana NietoThe dean brought up Nieto’s “rough” performance review from July at which she was told she has a “tendency to emphasize the negative viewpoint in most conversations.”

“This often leads to comments and tone that are disruptive, unprofessional and counterproductive to solution-finding and a growth mindset,” Masserini wrote. “The incident in question […] demonstrates a lack of reflection and behavior modification on your part.”

But Nieto’s supporters have a different take.

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PhD student Micah Ramirez, who calls Nieto a “mentor” and said she was “absolutely shocked” and “appalled” at her demotion, said the professor merely was “feeling frustrated” on the day in question and “was acting in capacity as a mother for her son.”

Ramirez said Masserini’s letter was “racially aimed” and “sexist” as it used terms “that have been historically used against women of color.” On that point, MSU Studio Arts Professor Yunjin La-mei Woo said MSU “is afraid of aggression by ‘female people of color.'”

“When we speak up, we are often depicted as aggressive and disruptive, instead of our opinions being heard and upheld,” Woo said, adding that Nieto’s “content and tone” in the situation were appropriate given the circumstances.

“If Dr. Nieto is demoted because of this, it sends an alarming message to all faculty and staff at MSU Denver whose children attend the university that they cannot properly advocate for their children’s educational rights,” Woo said.

Chicano Studies student Luke Lopez said the “racially coded language” in Masserini’s letter shows “a clear lack of awareness.” He said Hispanic students at MSU “are constantly being paraded about like decorative beasts” and the Chicano Studies Dept. “is experiencing a sort of academic apartheid.”

According to her faculty page, Nieto’s expertise lies in “Latina spiritualities and practices,” “feminism for women of color,” and “mental health among Xicanas.”

MORE: Ivy Leaguer’s advice: Ignore Western standards of professionalism because racism

IMAGES: Shutterstock.com; Metropolitan State U.

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Dave has been writing about education, politics, and entertainment for over 20 years, including a stint at the popular media bias site Newsbusters. He is a retired educator with over 25 years of service and is a member of the National Association of Scholars. Dave holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Delaware.