Allegations of racism fly when board member booted for refusing to use black resident’s doctoral title

A white member of the Greensboro, N.C. Zoning Commission has been fired by city council members after he refused a black resident’s request to use her doctoral title.

According to the Charlotte Observer, the council voted Tuesday evening to unanimously to dismiss Tony Collins after a terse back-and-forth during a virtual meeting of the commission on Monday involving Dr. Carrie Rosario, who holds a doctorate in public health and who serves as an associate professor at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro.

“It was a very disrespectful exchange between an important commissioner and a public citizen,” City Councilwoman Sharon Hightower, who sought the vote, told the paper. “That should never happen.”

The paper said that Collins was relatively new to the board and that his term did not expire until 2023. He is a partner at Collins & Galyon General Contractors, a local business. He did not respond to the paper’s request for comment.

An exchange between Collins and Rosario occurred near the end of a four-hour Zoning Commission virtual meeting as Rosario raised issues with a development project taking place near her home.

Collins jumped into the conversation to say that the discussion was moving of course while referring to her as “Mrs. Rosario.”

“It’s Dr. Rosario, thank you, sir,” she told Collins.

“If Mrs. Rosario has something,” he continued.

“Dr. Rosario,” she repeated, the Charlotte Observer continued.

“Well, you know, I’m sorry. Your name says on here ‘Carrie Rosario.’ Hey Carrie,'” Collins answered.

“It’s Dr. Rosario,” she repeated. “I wouldn’t call you Tony, so please, sir, call me as I would like to be called.”

“It doesn’t really matter,” Collins said.

“It matters to me. And out of respect, I would like you to call me by the name that I’m asking you to call me by,” the resident continued.

“Your screen says Carrie Rosario,” Collins insisted.

“I’m verbalizing my name is Dr. Carrie Rosario,” she said. “And it really speaks very negatively of you as a commissioner to be disrespectful.”

Collins replied that he isn’t trying to be disrespectful to Rosario, adding that she is “negotiating something that happened four years ago.”

Video of the back-and-forth between the two was played during the City Council’s Tuesday meeting, the paper reported. Hightower, after the video played, claimed that Collins was using “white privilege” during his conversation and that “regardless of whether you agree or disagree, that was disrespectful. This is unacceptable.”

Councilwoman Goldie Wells, who is Black and holds a doctorate as well, claimed that black women who have advanced degrees often are not given the same advantages that white women who only have a high school diploma get.

“The thing that has been one of the driving forces for African Americans is education,” Wells said, according to the Greensboro News & Record.

Following a discussion lasting about 30 minutes, Councilwoman Nancy Hoffmann said she could speak with Collins about the incident, but Hightower moved to have him booted from the commission.

Hightower went on to tell McClatchey News Wednesday she was very angry watching the exchange.

“It is not going to be tolerated,” she said. “As a black female, I am not going to see another black female treated in this manner.”

For her part, Rosario said the decision to dismiss Collins “shocked” her.

“It was a welcomed surprise,” she told McClatchy News. “I do not believe his actions reflect the type of behavior the public needs or expects from its elected or appointed leaders.”

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Jon Dougherty

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