Michigan State News

April 30, 1969

"Wilson hearing airs charges; BSA stays; decision pending"

by Jeanne Saddler


"In the future—and this is a warning—when racism exists in a component of this institution, we will close that component down."

The warning was made by Robert L. Green, associate director of the Center for Urban Affairs before approximately 1,000 students and the adjudicating committee set up by Acting President Adams to investigate charges of racial harassment made by the Black Students’ Alliance (BSA) against two Wilson Hall administrators.

Stewart Dunning, Lansing attorney, and Ron Bailey of BSA were spokesman for the prosecution. Sam Riddle, south complex chairman of BSA, presented the witnesses.

Joseph Trantham, food services manager of Wilson, and Elaine Mishler, head manager, were the accused, defended by Lansing attorney Hildebrand.

Carolyn J. Hatcher, Joleen Shane and Roxie Triplet, the complainants, accused Trantham and Miss Mishler of several incidents involving racial prejudice including: the alleged changing of Mrs. Hatcher’s work rating form excellent to sub-standard two weeks later with "personality conflict" given as the reason; the denial of the knowledge of a letter written in support of the complaints; abusive language and threats made by other employees and the failure of management to act upon the incidents; failure of management to give Mrs. Hatcher a regular day off; and the reported open acknowledgment by Miss Mishler that she was prejudiced.

Hildebrand, speaking for the defendants, said that some of the incidents did not directly involve the accused, thus requiring no specific comment, and "categorically denied" all the other charges.

Two weeks after Trantham told Mrs. Hatcher that she had a "wonderful" personality, she said he called her to his office and had changed her work rating to below standard because of an alleged personality conflict.

"All we said was ‘Good-morning Joe, good-morning Jean; good-bye Joe, good-bye Jean;--now where’s the conflict?", Mrs. Hatcher said.

Nana Stimson, a white bake-shop employee, was accused of swearing at Mrs. Joleen Shane. Tranthatm allegedly refused to act on the matter, and would not answer Mrs. Shane’s question concerning the action that would have been taken if she had sworn at a white employee. Alleged insults ranging from a threat to kick a black person "in the ass" to the telling of contrived lies designed to pit the black staff members against each other were also revealed.

When confronted earlier with her inaction on these issues and accused of being prejudice against blacks, Miss Mishler allegedly told her employees, "Maybe I am a little bit prejudiced."

Mrs. Hatcher, the mother of six children, accused the manager of failing to give her a specific day off. When she complained of problems, she said it was suggested that she transfer to the custodial staff.

Mrs. Hatcher related the story of another white employee who was "having problems" with the management and was reportedly moved to the dining room staff. "I just want to know why she wasn’t asked if she wanted to work on the custodial staff?"

Joel Ferguson of Lansing On-the-Job Training Program testified that the only reason the complaints were still employed was because his office had interceded for them two months ago with the Wilson management. This was in reply to the defense’s point that no black person had lost his or her job or been disciplined because of the incidents.

"We think you will understand, Hildebrand said, "that all of the things being said here are subject to interpretation, and I don’t think any of it is of the substance to cause us to be here."

The defense pointed out that not one black student had ever been refused a job at Wilson, and that three of the four last positions in the cafeteria were filled by blacks.

He also said that Tranatham had contacted Ferguson to solicit employees; "Not one complaint has been made to an organization in power to do anything about it," Hildebrand charged.

The hearing, conducted in an informal manner, brought out several grievances of both students and faulty related to general conditions of the university.