HBCU Administrator Dies by Suicide, School’s President Takes Leave

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A historically Black college and university is grieving the loss of a former administrator, and some alumni allege racial discrimination on the part of the institution’s president.

Antoinette “Bonnie” Candia-Bailey served as the vice president of student affairs at Lincoln University of Missouri, an HBCU in Jefferson City. Candia-Bailey, who was African American, died by suicide on Monday. According to Sherman Bonds, president of Lincoln’s National Alumni Association, she had recently been terminated.

Currently, the university’s board of curators, its governing body, is carrying out an investigation into its president, John B. Moseley. Moseley, who is white, “has voluntarily agreed to take paid administrative leave while the investigation is underway,” according to a statement from the board. The board intends to hire an independent third-party expert to conduct the inquiry.

“As a Board, we are dedicated to ensuring that the mental well-being of Lincoln University employees remains a top priority and that every employee is always treated with dignity and respect,” said Board of Curators President Victor Pasley in a statement. “While we have confidence in the leadership team we have at Lincoln, this review will thoroughly examine important questions, concerns, and gather factual information. Dr. Moseley agrees that these issues should be examined and has willingly taken leave during the investigation to ensure its full independence.”

In an email sent in the early morning hours of January 8th, which included previous email threads, Candia-Bailey mentioned her struggles with mental health and accused Moseley of intentional harassment and bullying. Candia-Bailey, an alumna of Lincoln who joined the university in May, described instances where she was set up to fail as an administrator.

“You had no intention of keeping me as the vice president of student affairs,” the email states. “Things went downhill after I submitted the FMLA and ADA documents due to my severe depression and anxiety. I requested to be removed from your leadership and from the president’s advisory council as this was causing significant harm. All of this has been documented and emails were sent.”

The email indicates that she received a score of 36 out of 100 on a professional evaluation in November 2023, despite regularly working after hours and not receiving any explanations for the low rating.

“Lincoln is where it all began for me and where it ultimately ended,” she wrote.

Candia-Bailey’s aunt, LaDonna Candia-Flanagan, confirmed in an email to USA TODAY on Friday that the cause of death was suicide. “Dr. Bonnie, as she was affectionately known, was recognized for her vibrant personality, quick wit, and infectious smile,” Candia-Flanagan said in a statement, citing the alleged bullying and harassment. “She made a lasting impact on everyone she encountered. With her outgoing nature, she never met a stranger and was admired for her kindness and empathy. Dr. Bonnie’s confidence, unique style, and her ability to challenge others’ thoughts set her apart as a true leader.”

USA TODAY’s requests for comments from the university and Moseley on Friday went unanswered.

What is an HBCU? Here’s a comprehensive guide to historically Black colleges and universities

In a Facebook post on Thursday, the university paid a brief tribute to Candia-Bailey and offered condolences to her family. “She was an exceptional colleague and always a passionate advocate for Lincoln University, HBCUs, and other causes she believed in,” the post stated.

The Lincoln University and broader HBCU communities are now overwhelmed with testimonials about the positive impact Candia-Bailey made, with many acknowledging the role of race in this scenario. Social media posts with hashtags such as #firemoseley and #justiceforbonnie question why a white man is in charge of a Black college and describe the mistreatment that Candia-Bailey allegedly faced as a Black woman.

In a letter posted on the Lincoln alumni association’s Facebook page on Thursday, Frances E. Curtis, an alumnus and fellow sorority member who was copied on Candia-Bailey’s January 8th email, expressed her dissatisfaction with Moseley’s leadership and the institution’s “re-branding” efforts. Moseley is the first white president of Lincoln University since 1922.

Curtis emphasized that Moseley does not represent her. 

“How can this man work in the best interest of young people who are Black, like me, when he does not share their racial or cultural identity?” Curtis asked in the letter addressed to the university’s board of curators.

According to federal data, 44% of the university’s students identify as Black, while 40% identify as white.

“I believe that race dynamics played a significant role in this situation,” said Wilmore, one of the alumni who forwarded Candia-Bailey’s email, in an interview with USA TODAY. “Many of us genuinely believe that there was specific bias and targeting from Moseley towards Dr. Bonnie.”

Chazz Robinson, an education policy adviser at the think tank Third Way, met Candia-Bailey several years ago when he was a doctoral student navigating the world of academia. Coming from a working-class family and being raised by a single Black mother, he lacked the network and financial resources that many of his peers had, and often questioned his own value.

However, Candia-Bailey, who was then an administrator at a small college in Massachusetts, encouraged him to participate in a panel alongside more seasoned scholars and made sure he was compensated for his time. She publicly praised him, highlighting his strengths and potential. “She had a smile that could light up a room… She was truly special and someone I’ll never forget,” Robinson said. Her death “should serve as a wake-up call: Black women are going through a lot, and as a society, we need to do better by them. We need to prioritize mental health and create work environments where it doesn’t come to this.”

Bonds, the national alumni association president, agreed that Candia-Bailey’s death should be a catalyst for change and stated that he had been concerned about Moseley’s leadership since his appointment in early 2022. “The current administration is posing a risk to the institution’s mission and well-being,” he wrote in a letter on January 9th.

Wilmore, a history professor and sports coach currently residing in South Carolina, emphasized the close-knit nature of the Lincoln community and how its alumni always come together in times of grief.

“It seems like every year we lose a family member,” Wilmore said. But throughout it all, “Lincoln has always stood together, Lincoln has always prioritized family… And whenever a member of the family is targeted or wronged, we tend to support them.”

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