Penn State calls ‘whiteness’ a mental health issue, new lawsuit alleges

When a Penn State professor complained about discrimination for being white, he says he was told “there is a problem with the white race,” and he “might have mental health issues.”

Now the…

When a Penn State professor complained about discrimination for being white, he says he was told “there is a problem with the white race,” and he “might have mental health issues.”

Now the former English professor at the Penn State Abington campus, Zack De Piero, is fighting back with a racial discrimination lawsuit claiming he was “singled out for ridicule and humiliation because of the color of his skin,” Fox News reports.

“I think there is almost a religious, cult-like environment where you had this Original Sin. In this case, I’m white. I need to repent for that sin,” he said, when speaking with Fox News about the lawsuit filed by The Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism on his behalf. “I need to keep going to these [trainings], keep doing the work.”

The suit says De Piero experienced a “continuous stream of racial insult directed at white faculty in the writing department,” which, he told Fox News, felt like a “psychological war campaign.”

“As a white individual, I’m somehow responsible for all the injustices and suffering currently in the world and in the history of the world,” he continued. “They’re trying to break people. And they almost broke me. But they didn’t.”

De Piero’s direct supervisor, Liliana Naydan, allegedly “expressed her view that racism practiced against white faculty and students is legitimate,” and attempted to force English department faculty to “penalize students academically on the basis of race” for the sake of equity.

She also allegedly “instructed her writing faculty to teach that white supremacy exists in language itself, and therefore, that the English language itself is ‘racist’ and, furthermore, that white supremacy exists in the teaching of writing of English, and therefore writing teachers are themselves racist white supremacists.”

Fox News reports Naydan did not immediately respond to its request for comment.

When De Piero finally had enough, he decided to file a complaint.

After he made the complaint, “the director of the Affirmative Action Office told him that, ‘There is a problem with the white race,’ that he should attend ‘antiracist’ workshops ‘until you get it,’ and that he might have mental health issues,” according to the lawsuit.

One of the workshops allegedly included a video titled, “White Teachers are a Problem,” which “associated ‘white supremacy’ with all the evils of the world.”

Another included a breathing session during which the white faculty were encouraged to hold their breath longer than other faculty so they could “feel the pain” that the facilitator said George Floyd felt. Yet another workshop included a video that allegedly declared “white English … kills people of color.”

“De Piero and other faculty were thus singled out, caused to experience discomfort, and feel ‘the pain’ on the basis of their skin color,” the lawsuit argues.

The facilitator named in the suit, Alina Wong, was an assistant vice provost for Educational Equity at the time of the allegations, but no longer works for the university. Fox News reports she is currently vice president for Institutional Equity at Macalester College in Minnesota and didn’t immediately respond to request for comment either.

The lawsuit also alleges the university maintained a webpage devoted to “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” that “disseminated racist tirades against white faculty and students on the basis of their race.” Examples include “white rage,” “white immunity” and “white fragility.”

Finally, the suit alleges De Piero’s complaints about the hostile working environment created by the myriad workshops resulted in retaliatory complaints against him and a negative performance review.

Ultimately, the lawsuit says, the university allegedly gave him an official warning that “dissenting from Penn State’s race-based dogma” would result in “disciplinary action,” leading him to resign under duress.

“Penn State actively treated De Piero as the problem, suggesting mental health treatment and disciplining him for bullying when he dared to complain,” the lawsuit says. “As a result, De Piero’s only option to escape the hostile environment was to leave Penn State. This constructive termination occurred on August 2, 2022.”

De Piero told Fox News his treatment was particularly troubling since he obviously has no control over his skin color, and says he regularly worked with underprivileged and marginalized communities through his employment with the university and volunteer work. 

Still, the decision to file the lawsuit was about his daughter’s future, he maintains. He says he knew he had to take action to ensure she never had to deal with a similar situation over the color of her skin. 

“I remember there was one night I was putting her to bed, sort of like wondering what she was going to be in life when all this was happening,” he told Fox News. “And I remember thinking … if she wants to be a teacher, I don’t want her to ever have to enter this kind of work environment and be made to be feel like [she’s] somehow professionally incompetent or morally inept simply because the color of her skin.” 

Fox News reports Penn State was contacted but refused to comment on ongoing litigation.