Scholar-in-Residence files federal, state complaints of racial, gender discrimination against CNU after controversy over tweet

Sophia Nelson.jpg
Posted at 3:47 PM, Mar 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-10 21:01:44-05

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. - A former adjunct professor and Scholar-in-Residence at Christopher Newport University in Newport News who became embroiled in a controversy in October 2021 has filed a series of federal and state agency administrative complaints against the university for racial, gender and religious discrimination.

Sophia Nelson's complaints, which also argue her First Amendment rights to free expression and speech were violated, were accepted by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in Washington, D.C. These Title VII and Title IX claims have been filed as required by law before she can file legal action in the federal courts.

The university said Thursday that the charges have since been dismissed.

It all stemmed from a tweet Nelson put out that many students at the university called homophobic.

Nelson, an author and journalist, tweeted her viewpoints on bisexuality regarding a DC comic book character. She wrote, "I don't get why this is necessary. I don't! What if Christian parents of children reading comic books don't want their kids exposed to bi-sexual characters? This is being pushed on kids."

Screengrab of tweet

Nelson later apologized and deleted the tweet.

On January 10, 2022, a CNU advisory board member reportedly informed her of a letter sent by the university's counsel, Maureen Matsen, that stated Nelson no longer aligned with the school's values and would not be invited to return in any capacity.

"When you read the disappointing, factually false official CNU response to my request to continue teaching at CNU and do the good work we started in September 2021, it becomes clear that school officials at CNU are indeed hostile and biased against me as a historic Black female scholar and woman who defends herself and her rights. They accept zero responsibility for their calamitous mishandling of this non-CNU matter right out the gate, and worse - attack me for their malfeasance in not honoring their own CNU community policies around free speech and respectful engagement," Nelson said.

The news came a few months after protests on campus and Nelson fearing for her safety, causing her to not attend a meeting with students in November. Nelson previously said she received "nasty emails, threats, and hate," and added that had "been rough."

Dr. Danielle Stern, a communications professor at the university, initially responded to Nelson's tweet with an emailed open letter distributed through the school, and many students signed a petition asking for Nelson's removal from the university. The university also responded, noting the tweet caused, "real damage here, causing pain, and anger."

CNU hired Nelson as an adjunct professor of philosophy and religion in 2020 and then as a Scholar-in-Residence in August 2021. She was the first Black woman to hold the latter position.

News 3 reached out to CNU for a statement. The university said in an email, "Ms. Nelson’s allegations of discrimination and retaliation are without merit. In fact, she and the University received notice today, March 10, 2022, that the EEOC dismissed her charges."

After CNU released its statement, Nelson provided us with the determination and notice of rights sent to her by the EEOC, which said it "will not proceed further with its investigation and makes no determination about whether further investigation would establish violations of the statute." In the letter, the EEOC specified that this does not mean Nelson's claims have no merit.

The letter is an official notice of the dismissal of Nelson's charge and her right to sue. It states that if she chooses to file a lawsuit against the university, it must be filed within 90 days within receiving the letter.

Sophia Nelson EEOC letter
Sophia Nelson EEOC letter
Sophia Nelson EEOC letter

Click here to read Nelson's full complaint.

Related: CNU students protest over scholar in residence's controversial tweet