Holding leaders accountable in the Ithaca City School District
On January 26, 2021, Dr. Luvelle Brown, Superintendent of the Ithaca City School District announced, in an abrupt change of course, he would be remaining in his position. Two weeks earlier Brown had announced he would be stepping down from the position to enter the private sector. While Brown insisted it was unrelated, it came in the midst of controversy.
Some weeks before this, petitions circulated by a group of concerned citizens in support of Anjanette Brown, the ex-spouse of Dr. Brown, called for an investigation of Dr. Brown. The petitions make several allegations against Dr. Brown including misappropriation of school resources, nepotism and abuse of power. Ms. Brown has also levied even more serious allegations of emotional and physical abuse of her children. The group has also levied complaints at other members of the school board who they say participated in obstructive activities. Back in January, School Board President Robert Ainslie was caught on camera throwing papers, which had been served to him following the filing of a petition by Ms. Brown to the New York State Department of Education, into the snow.
Dr. Brown also serves on the Ithaca College Board of Trustees. Among those who organized around Ms. Brown was Peyi Soyinka-Airewele, a Professor of Politics at Ithaca College and a member of the Tompkins County Human Rights Commission. Professor Soyinka-Airewele is originally from Nigeria, where her father Wole Soyinka made his name as both a playwright and a freedom fighter. Professor Soyinka-Airewele became the first Black woman to gain tenure at Ithaca College. “I was born into the idea of struggle,” said she during a Zoom call alongside Anjanette Brown.
It should be noted in the interest of full disclosure, the author of this story is a student of Professor Soyinka-Airewele. And it was in her class that I first became aware of this story.
But this story has been written independently of coercion or incentivization of any kind on the part of Professor Soyinka-Airewele. Professor Soyinka-Airewele knew both Anjanette, who she calls Anjie, and Dr. Luvelle Brown from their positions in the community, but never knew of the relationship between the two until a few years ago following Ms. Brown’s divorce.
Prior to the publicization of the petition, Ms. Brown and her supporters attempted to work through the ICSD itself. However, the ICSD reported to Ms. Brown that the allegations levied were out of their purview, and were a personal matter.
Ms. Brown rejects this notion pointing to the New York State Department of Education’s response to her petition stating that the ICSD’s statement “improperly minimized” the allegations levied by Ms. Brown. This was according to documents provided by Ms. Brown. Despite this acknowledgment, the NYSDE still refused to find any error in the ICSD’s decision to not seek an independent investigation.
The supporters of Ms. Brown have continued to publicize the allegations through a Facebook page and a website called ICSDAccountabilityFiles.wordpress.com. Here, they publish documents that they say prove the serious allegations against Dr. Brown.
Despite their extensive work, Ms. Brown and her support network had seemingly exhausted every legal avenue with nearly all coming up short. That was until they were contacted by IC Alumni Against Austerity. The group, which was heavily involved in the fight to “Open the Books” and opposed the APPIC, reached out to Ms. Brown and Professor Soyinka-Airewele looking to meet and discuss their case. The group was concerned with Dr. Brown’s position on the Ithaca College Board of Trustees, and whether his conduct both personal and professional bode well for leadership positions within the institution.
“Seeing the ways in which these women, who I have so much respect for, have been shut down in our community was something very concerning,” said Sarah Grunberg, a member of IC Alumni Against Austerity, and graduate of Ithaca from the class of 2008.
Speaking alongside Elijah Breton, another member of IC Alumni Against Austerity and class of 2016 graduate, Grunberg echoed common themes of toxicity related to not only the behavior of Luvelle Brown, but in the Ithaca College administration as a whole.
“We’re continuing to let this culture fester into something that is completely unacceptable,” said Breton, discussing a pattern of problematic behavior in Ithaca going back years.
While Dr. Brown, a man of color, has often evoked an image of fighting racism and white supremacy in the classroom, Breton, a fellow man of color, says his image doesn’t reflect the damage he has done to the work of other people of color.
“What Luvelle Brown is doing is a complete disgrace,” said Breton discussing the hard work of people of color to build themselves and their careers. “What he has done completely undermines that for other people of color.
“Ultimately, there needs to be swift action taken against Luvelle Brown to ensure he is no longer on the board,” said Breton, making clear the organization’s goals concerning Luvelle Brown. But Breton made clear that IC Alumni Against Austerity’s concerns do not stop at Dr. Brown. “There needs to be systematic change,” said Breton, discussing long-term issues with IC’s administration back to the years of former College President Tom Rochon, who resigned following a wave of protests against his administration in 2017.
“We should hold all our leaders to the same kind of principles that we expect,” said Professor Soyinka-Airewele while reciting several allegations of lawbreaking, corruption, and general abuse of power by Dr. Brown which they detail on their website. “It should not happen that our students are studying in an institution that considers these as negligible offenses. They are major.”
We reached out to the Ithaca College Board of Trustees to comment on this story. In their response, they acknowledged that they were aware of the allegations, which they called “personal.” The suggestion that the allegations against Dr. Brown are a mere personal matter is not new to Professor Soyinka-Airewele. She says these are not personal issues, but an issue of ethics and character of those holding positions of power within Ithaca College.
“Let me say this without any ambiguity. This is not about a domestic, personal situation. This is about a public problem about the misuse of public office both in the Ithaca community and Ithaca College,” said Professor Soyinka-Airewele.
We also reached out to Dr. Luvelle Brown for comment on this story, but as of publishing, he did not respond.
This fight has taken its toll on Ms. Brown, what she described as “exhaustive progress.” But, Ms. Brown has seemingly come out of it with some silver linings. She has taken a position along with Professor Soyinka-Airewele on the Tompkins Human Rights Commission and gained a strengthened resolve.
“I’m in this for as long as it takes,” said Ms. Brown acknowledging the fight is not merely one of right and wrong, but a personal one for herself and more importantly, her children.
Visit our website for a detailed list of grievances against Dr. Brown.
Provided here is a detailed list of grievances against Dr. Luvelle Brown. This was provided by Ms. Anjanette Brown.
George Christopher is a third-year journalism major who is always asking the toughest questions. They can be reached at [email protected].