In May, the University’s Director of Athletics was “incredibly excited” to announce a new hire for the department: Jordan “JT” Turner, who would be joining the University as the inaugural Associate Director of Athletics for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). Turner’s role was intended to “create and maintain a culture of mutual respect and unity” and oversee “all aspects of DEI education and training for student-athletes, coaches and staff with Princeton Athletics,” according to a University announcement.
Within four months, Turner resigned from the role.
Turner is not the only University DEI official to recently resign. Since September 2021, two other Princeton staff members who were hired to conduct DEI-related work across the University have resigned. All three independently alleged a systemic lack of support from the University administration.
An investigation by The Daily Princetonian traces the paths that led to the resignations of Turner, Dr. Jim Scholl, and Dr. Avina Ross. In a series of interviews, the three shared their experiences working with the University and their respective departments, and what eventually prompted them to resign.
Scholl served as the Chair of the Transgender Health Team at University Health Services (UHS) and the Preventions Programs Manager at the Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising, Resources and Education (SHARE) office, and Ross was the Associate Director of SHARE.
“Folks like myself are treated like we’re on an assembly line,” Turner said. “You hire us, you fire us, and you bring someone else in, and people will just stay in their roles of leadership and get away with it.”
Turner, Scholl, and Ross said they came to see a lack of structural support and understanding from the University soon after accepting the role, which led them to feel that there had been insufficient thought in designing the roles they were hired to fulfill. These feelings eventually boiled over and prevented them from continuing with their jobs, the three ex-staff members said.
“[A colleague] said to me, as I was preparing to move [onto campus], ‘if you quit now, no one would blame you,’” Scholl said.
In a statement to the ‘Prince,’ University Spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss said, “There is a shared and continual commitment to ensuring a diverse and inclusive environment at the University in which all staff members can thrive. The data over time shows increased diversity, and we pay special attention to both internal movement and quality of experience, with opportunities for professional development.”
“It didn’t feel like the intention was for me to be fully supported in my role”
In May 2022, when Princeton University Athletics first announced that Turner would serve as its first Associate Director for DEI, their role was described as maintaining a culture of respect and combating “bias based on gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, race and all other identities.”
In the role, Turner would work collaboratively with the University’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI), Gender + Sexuality Resource Center (GSRC), and Campus Life, the announcement said.
But once in the job, Turner told the ‘Prince’ they experienced barriers that reduced their ability to affect change. They resigned in September.
“I am a Black queer non-binary person who came to Princeton to create a more just and equitable playing field for all,” they said in an interview. “In 2022, we know there are deep issues of injustice and inequity in athletics and unfortunately, those in positions of power within the department missed a crucial opportunity to address those issues head-on. I was disappointed by that.”
“It didn’t feel like the intention was for me to be fully supported in my role. The role of equity in athletics is critical to the future of sports at the post-secondary level,” they continued. “After I started, my interactions within the department felt more like the point was for me to be a symbol of progress but not a driver for progress itself.”
Once Turner arrived on campus, they said they were met with resistance from leaders in the Athletics department. They added that they made the majority of their University professional connections across campus on their own, without the help of the department.
“When I first started, I felt some support [from Athletics], and then once I got on campus, that quickly changed,” Turner said. “Some of my fellow colleagues with little background in DEI were quick to push back on trusting my more than 10 years of experience in this work.”
The University did not respond to a specific request for comment on this claim.
Before coming to Princeton, Turner held a series of DEI roles at other colleges in the last decade. They had served as the Director of the Gender and Sexuality Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the Assistant Director of Multicultural Student Affairs at Northwestern University, and a Residence Hall Director at the University of Connecticut.
Turner said that soon after their onboarding, Director of Athletics John Mack ’00 and other senior leaders in the Athletics Department “began pulling back on some of the promises that had been made to me.”
Mack did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
“Soon my requests to ease into important tasks were met with directives to ‘just wait a year.’ This was from everything — proposed multi-year projects to minimal two to four week project commitments,” they said. (The University did not respond to a specific request for comment on this claim.)
For example, Turner said they hoped to lead trainings about trans-inclusion policy and guidelines. Having led similar initiatives on other campuses, Turner said this proposed initiative was something they had discussed in their interview for the job at the University.
Turner said they also tried to organize training for coaches on facilitating and de-escalating conversations, and managing them in ways that “aren’t harmful.”
“I was basically told to put off all training for a year with a plan to revisit at a later unspecified date,” they said. “My thought at the time was a concern about what coaches and players needed. I didn’t want to go a whole year without achieving any important milestones besides meetings and 1:1 interactions with no identifiable, measurable strategy.”
Turner said that their ideas for integrating DEI-related principles into the Athletics department’s approach to conflict were curtailed.
“It was made clear that approaching conflict and potential harm in ways that center the experiences of women, trans people, queer people, and other current and historically marginalized people were not welcomed,” Turner said. “People needed only to be committed to the status quo.”
“The more I push[ed] for policy change, the more resistant the leadership became. It was a highly macro-aggressive environment,” they added. “I couldn’t take the necessary steps that were needed to lay the groundwork for innovative equity work in the department.”
Turner also noted the personal toll that the job had on them, particularly their mental health. They moved from Chicago, Ill. to Philadelphia, Pa. for the job.
“With my family, we moved across the country. I left another role for this opportunity to be a driver for change in athletics,” Turner said. “It’s been fairly traumatic for me.”
They said that they came to feel unsupported and undermined in their role.
“It created such a hostile work environment for me that I literally could not return to the office,” they said, adding that they began to have anxiety attacks in the wake of this environment. “I was hospitalized because of just how stressful the work environment became and I had little support.”
Turner stressed what they see as the importance of mental health work on campus, particularly in athletics.
“In an age where players like Naomi Osaka, Sha’Carri Richardson, DeMar DeRozan, Harry Miller and many others are advocating for their emotional and mental well-being, we know that there is so much work to do,” they said.
“Is that work going to be uncomfortable for senior leaders and administrators in athletics? Yes. Does that mean we shouldn’t do it? No,” Turner added.
In the initial announcement, Mack had expressed his excitement about Turner joining the team.
“Jordan is a proven leader and they will be an invaluable asset as we continue to foster a diverse and inclusive culture in Princeton Athletics,” Mack said in May. “I’m certain Jordan will have an immediate and positive impact on the experience of our student-athletes, coaches and staff.”
Hotchkiss referred the ‘Prince’ to a statement made by Senior Associate Director of Athletics Stacey Bunting-Thompson to the paper in October.
“The position of Associate Director of Athletics for DEI is of the highest importance to the Department of Athletics and a national search to fill the position is underway,” Bunting-Thompson wrote.
In the same statement, she declined to comment on “other personnel matters.”
Turner said that in addition to receiving pushback from the Athletics department, they were informed that the existence of their position was receiving backlash from the greater University community.
“I was told by Mack that there were members of staff and alumni who didn't even believe my role should exist,” they said. “There was so much stacked against the success of this role.”
For her part, Bunting-Thompson emphasized in her statement the department’s commitment to “creating and maintaining a culture of mutual respect and unity and to combating bias.” She highlighted the formation of Tigers Together, an initiative started by Athletics in November 2020 to understand the experiences of underrepresented communities and be a force for change. She also noted ongoing partnerships with student-athlete affinity groups, colleagues across campus and community initiatives through numerous teams and the Princeton Varsity Club.
But Turner said they felt that the way they had been treated by the University was unprecedented in their line of work.
“I’ve been a DEI practitioner for 10 years, and have supported courageous students, staff, and faculty who are pushing against systems that are doing them harm,” they said. “This is the first time I have experienced [harm] myself with this much access to systemic power as a senior leader.”
“There are many people on campus hired to do DEI work, but the structure renders us ineffective”
In May 2021, SHARE announced that Dr. Jim Scholl would join the office as its new Preventions Programs Manager, and would be tasked with leading the office’s men’s engagement initiatives and clinical service provision. Scholl later became the Chair of the Transgender Health Team for UHS.
Scholl resigned from the University in September 2022, the same month as Turner.
“I sort of got sold on this ‘DEI-forward thinking’ institution,” Scholl said. “I had like 14 interviews with people who preached this big progressive agenda moving towards equity, anti-violence with the University.”
Scholl explained that the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity hosted periodic meetings and luncheons for “DEI practitioners” on campus. As one of the staff members considered to be a “DEI practitioner,” they said that these luncheons and other meetings of the group, as well as the label itself, often felt performative.
As part of the University’s DEI Annual Report, the Office would also include information on what the DEI practitioners were doing to advance the missions.
Hotchkiss wrote that the DEI Practitioners Group includes more than 70 University administrators whose primary responsibilities consist of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
According to Hotchkiss, the goals associated with convening the group consisted of fostering community building and connection, supporting cross-institutional collaboration through information sharing, and organizing professional development and learning opportunities.
“There was no formal opportunity for, or encouragement of, ongoing collaboration,” Scholl said. “We were siloed, aside from the occasional group meeting.” They added that while there are many individuals hired to do DEI-related work across campus, in their view, “the structure renders us ineffective.”
“It kind of feels like this is all intentional to ensure that we don’t progress in terms of our DEI goals,” Scholl said.
In a statement to the ‘Prince,’ Shawn Maxam, the Associate Provost for Diversity and Inclusion, shared a different perspective: he said he is excited by the expansion of the DEI practitioners group over the past few years.
“As the group has expanded, I’m proud of its ability to remain a community of support for current and new practitioners, to enrich our collective growth through continuous learning, provide space for feedback and frank discussion of shared challenges, and catalyze opportunities for strategic collaboration,” Maxam wrote.
In a statement to the ‘Prince,’ Michele Minter, the Vice Provost for Institutional Equity and Diversity, expressed a similar sentiment about the expansion of DEI practitioners.
“I am deeply grateful for the depth of expertise, creativity and commitment of Princeton’s DEI practitioners, a group that has expanded significantly in the past decade,” she wrote. “It has been a pleasure to celebrate with many of these great colleagues as their careers have grown at Princeton or as they have continued to be close collaborators after transitioning to roles outside Princeton.”
In a statement to the ‘Prince,’ Director of SHARE Jacqueline Deitch-Stackhouse commented on SHARE’s role with DEI practitioners on campus. She said that the staff “work hard to cultivate relationships and engage in meaningful programmatic partnerships with DEI practitioners across campus,” including those in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the GSRC, the Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding, Athletics, Health Promotion and Prevention Services, and TigerWell.
“Even when we don’t have an official infrastructure linking our respective DEI practitioners together, we find ways to collaborate because it is the best way forward to reach our broader anti-oppression goals,” she wrote.
But from Scholl’s point of view, this infrastructure of DEI was “poorly organized” and marked by a “lack of coordination.”
Scholl said the University is constantly creating “reductive” DEI committees and coalitions, which are scattered across campus. They said that the committees and coalitions establish diffuse goals which are not measurable or attached to deadlines — and therefore not achievable.
“Moreover, [the groups] don’t operate with any urgency, [which is] a failure to recognize that people’s health, wellbeing, and safety are on the line,” they said.
Minter emphasized that Princeton’s approach to DEI strategy is “comprehensive, detailed and seeks to hold all units and leaders accountable.” She said in the statement that every “cabinet officer” is responsible for working with colleagues to develop a DEI plan for their respective unit.
“These plans are regularly reviewed and the activities in the plans are evaluated. At the institutional level, Princeton regularly assesses climate, demographic and benchmarking data,” she wrote.
During Scholl’s time at SHARE, the office experienced a significant increase in demand, in part a reflection of reduced campus activity during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Deitch-Stackhouse. Scholl said that they were then expected to pick up some of the slack.
“In addition to the day-to-day of leading our prevention initiatives and supporting survivors, every three weeks I was doing a full week of on-call work,” they said. “Working to address one pandemic [campus sexual violence], while trying to survive another [COVID-19] is overwhelming.”
Deitch-Stackhouse said that in January 2022, SHARE added a half-time clinician “that helped absorb some of the volume,” but explained that other team members took on additional responsibility.
“I started experiencing symptoms of burnout,” Scholl said, adding that they did not feel supported by the University in taking leave or caring for themself.
“I can offer one specific example, when I made a request to go get the monkeypox vaccine in New York,” they said. Scholl is HIV positive and explained that they are at higher risk for a more severe outcome if they were to contract Mpox.
“I explained, in an unnecessary level of detail, that I need[ed] to take a day off to go to New York for the appointment. The response to my request was, ‘Well, can you still join [the] staff meeting in the morning?’ and I was like, ‘Okay, yeah, I guess I can do that.’”
They later were asked to work on the train on the way to the city, up until their appointment time.
“It was frustrating because there was a complete lack of empathy, much less consideration for the context of a queer person trying to survive yet another plague,” they said.
Asked about this allegation, Hotchkiss referred the ‘Prince’ to the University’s sick leave policy. Full-time employees accrue sick time during each fiscal year, typically accumulating up to eight days per fiscal year.
Scholl also said that, as part of their role, they started working and running the Strength in Coaching on Relationships, Respect, and Equality (SCORRE) program within the Athletics department, where they would train representatives from every varsity athletics team, and their coaches. The program emphasizes building and enhancing health relationships, and knowledge related to DEI.
According to Deitch-Stackhouse, the SCORRE program was adapted from the Coaching Boys into Men (K–12) curriculum and was launched by SHARE in 2015.
“SCORRE is a comprehensive, three-year training program which includes several important elements, including a train-the-trainer session, five 30-minute peer-facilitated discussions and semesterly booster conversations until the training cycle repeats,” she wrote, adding that the program was “revised to amplify its DEI content in fall of 2020.”
Scholl explained that in their experience, it was apparent that “some teams only seemed interested in participating in the training as it helped ensure NCAA compliance, Ivy Plus compliance, and Title IX compliance.”
“In my mind, the SHARE office was going out of their way to try and improve the health and well-being and culture of athletics,” they said, adding that, with a few exceptions, “we weren’t often met with gratitude. To some coaches, you would think I was enacting some form of punishment.”
Deitch-Stackhouse said that Athletics’ administrators, coaches, and student athletes have provided input and “helped shape the program from its outset.”
“We receive regular feedback about how the program fosters meaningful conversations and influences team dynamics,” she wrote. “Based on Athletics’ staff recommendations, coaches and administrators from other universities have reached out to SHARE to explore the possibility of bringing SCORRE to their host institutions.”
When Scholl first met Turner, they said they were “impressed” — “their presence re-invigorated me.”
“When I heard what they wanted to accomplish, the direction they wanted to go, the partnerships they wanted to have,” Scholl said, “I was upfront and transparent about the challenges they would face, but I said I wanted to support them in whatever way I could.”
Scholl explained they were eager to help Turner with their efforts towards creating trans-inclusive policy and DEI training opportunities for Athletics. But shortly after starting, it seemed to Scholl that Turner’s programs were being shut down.
Scholl said that “very early on,” they would agree to collaborate with Turner on a specific initiative. However, a couple of weeks later, Scholl would receive an email from Turner to the effect of: “I was just told that I shouldn’t do that, and it should be tabled for the future.”
“No one I spoke to in Athletics seemed shocked that they left,” Scholl added. “The culture was not ready to support that type of role.”
“The environment was not set up for us to thrive”
In July 2017, the University announced Dr. Avina Ross as the first Prevention Curriculum Assessment Manager of the SHARE office. Ross was made the inaugural Associate Director of the SHARE office in November 2019, before resigning in September 2021.
In her initial role, Ross was tasked with building the prevention work on campus, assessment evaluation work in the office, changing the strategic framework of the office, and supervising SHARE Peers, which included revising their training and curriculum.
After six months as Prevention Curriculum Assessment Manager, she approached Deitch-Stackhouse with hopes of being promoted to a leadership role, but said she was “shut down.”
“We were the only student-facing office in UHS that didn’t have an associate or assistant director,” she told the ‘Prince.’ She said that after speaking with employees at other Ivy League institutions, she learned that her role was very similar to that of an associate or an assistant director.
Ross said that she had “great performance evaluations” but was told to wait for the new UHS building to be built to receive a promotion. The University expects to complete construction on the new UHS facility in 2024.
After Ross was denied a promotion, she went back onto the job market. Ross claimed that she applied and received competing job offers for similar roles, outside of Princeton.
“The only way that [Deitch-Stackhouse] was willing to give me a promotion was when there was competition and the office was at risk of losing me. This is something that BIPOC people experience in higher education all the time, at the hands of white leadership,” Ross said.
After learning about Ross’s job offers, Ross said that Deitch-Stackhouse countered with a new role: the Associate Director of SHARE.
“I was celebrated on campus when I got a promotion, but that’s not what happened. What happened is that I had to travel across the country, which cost me time and money, to create competition, only to earn the opportunity that should have been extended to me months earlier, where I originally wanted to be,” Ross said.
“There was never any accountability or apology,” she added.
Ross echoed Turner and Scholl’s sentiments that there were shortcomings in the administration’s support system.
“I could see the intention behind trying to bring in more diversity-related practitioners to campus because it happened but the environment was not set up for us to thrive,” Ross said. “I still look at my Princeton colleagues as the best colleagues I’ve ever had.”
Ross and Scholl were both a part of an informal group of DEI practitioners who “ came together because of the harms we experienced in the institution.”
“We were generally expected to operate within the Princeton institution and we were typically the folks in spaces that question[ed] the things that other folks didn’t question,” she said.
“We were the ones essentially taking a lot of risks in committees that had folks at Princeton, from Princeton leadership, hearing us being vocal and questioning and challenging,” she added. “It gets to a point where it becomes too much.”
Deitch-Stackhouse wrote that SHARE staff recognizes the office’s shortcomings and are working to improve their work.
“[A]lthough [staff] are trying to promote equity and anti-oppression in our work, we, our community and society, have so much more work to do,” she wrote.
“We recognize that anti-oppression work and the commitment to change is an on-going and sometimes non-linear process,” she added. “However, we decide to show up every day to acknowledge our imperfections, take ownership, learn, and change while doing our best to provide our campus community with empowering support and advocacy.”
Ross said that she left the University for a variety of reasons, including what she described as the “traumatic” difficulty in securing her promotion and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There is so much work to do”
To Scholl, their personal frustrations with their experience as a University employee relate to their broader frustration with the University as an institution. They were first inspired to work in the SHARE office, they said, because “Princeton has every opportunity to become one of the most robust and impressive violence prevention programs in the country.” Now, they said they see the institution in a different light.
“We have the data, and knowledge, and yet [have] to beg [for] institutional support,” Scholl said.
Deitch-Stackhouse referenced the SHARE office’s purpose statement. She wrote that the office’s “shared values speak to the fact that oppression in all of its forms is the root of interpersonal violence experienced by the community we serve.”
“[The SHARE office] believe[s] anti-oppression work is anti-violence work and we are committed to providing services, both intervention and prevention, that anchor to this framework,” Deitch-Stackhouse wrote.
Hotchkiss emphasized that there are 15 departments at the University engaged in DEI learning paths, which will include University-wide learning and guided resources, as well as facilitated workshops and self-directed study.
He added that employees at the University have participated in more than 6,000 learning opportunities across 150 DEI-related classes and that more than 400 managers have been trained on Mitigating Bias in the Hiring Process.
“Employees have also engaged in training regarding LGBTQ Allyship; Bias, Power, Privilege and Workplace Communication; Psychological Safety; and more,” Hotchkiss wrote.
Adding to his general statement that “[t]here is a shared and continual commitment to ensuring a diverse and inclusive environment at the University in which all staff members can thrive,” Hotchkiss also referred the ‘Prince’ to the University’s 11 Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), which are open to all employees, and aim to provide opportunities for meetings between faculty and staff who share common interests and backgrounds.
“With more than 2,100 members, ERGs play a meaningful role in Princeton’s employee culture,” Hotchkiss wrote.
In Turner’s eyes, though, none of those resources grapple with the root of the problem as they experienced it.
“My position and its potential for change were more symbolic than actually real,” they said.
Senior sports writer Rachel Posner contributed reporting to this article.
Lia Opperman is an assistant news editor who often covers student life, University affairs, and political coverage.
Editor’s note: This article was updated as of Dec. 21 at 1:30 p.m. to include additional quotes from Dr. Avina Ross and provide greater clarity on the circumstances relating to her departure from the University.
Please send any corrections to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.