It was supposed to be a night of celebration.
Dr. Celeste Malone, associate professor and coordinator of the psychology program at Howard University, invited her fellow black psychologists, graduate students and a small number of friends and family to a celebration in her presidential suite on the evening of February 8.
The gathering was part of the annual convention of the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) at the Hyatt Regency in Denver. Malone is president of NASP, only the second black president of the organization, which represents more than 25,000 school psychologists, graduate students and professionals worldwide.
Malone’s presidential reception began at 7:30 p.m. At 9:20 p.m., Malone gave a toast, acknowledging how many more black psychologists there are in the field today than in the past, and recognizing past psychologists of color who have led the way for progress.
“Being the second black president was a big event not only for me, but for the black school psychologist community,” Malone said in an interview with Diverse.
Just ten minutes later, the party came to an abrupt end with a knock on her hotel room door. Two white hotel staff members informed Malone that there had been several noise complaints and demanded that everyone leave. One stayed in a hotel suite to ensure compliance.
The Hyatt’s quiet hours don’t start until 10:00 p.m. Malone said neither she nor her guests received any prior warnings from any hotel staff about the noise complaints. No one stayed except for her and one relative in the adjoining rooms. Reports from attendees said the party was not loud. Furthermore, the assembly was located in the lounge of the presidential suite, a space normally used for events, with a capacity for 75 people.
Malone said she and those who attended the celebration were targeted because they were black.
While the Hyatt has since issued an apology, Malone and NASP officials are still working with the hotel to correct the mistake and ensure similar incidents do not happen again at any future NASP convention.
Earlier in the day, Malone gave her keynote address, Radical Hope and Authentic Healing, touching on the collective responsibility of the community to advocate for diversity, equality and inclusion. Malone said she and other NASP leaders worked hard to ensure the convention was an “inclusive and affirming” space.
“For that joyful experience and event to end in such a sudden and stereotypical way — it hurt,” Malone said, adding that she knew what was happening as soon as hotel staff came to her door.
“I made a comment about five minutes before they came, I wouldn’t be surprised if they came because I’m black and I live in the biggest suite in the hotel, the rally will be mostly black, and this was a celebratory event,” Malone said. “I know these are all flag-raising things — black rallies are being watched. There was nothing about it that surprised me.”
Despite that, Malone said the moment was incredibly painful.
“I’m angry because I know that what I’m experiencing is really racist – and at the same time I know that I can’t express my anger, or I have to be careful about how I do it, because I could change the situation. worse,” Malone said. “It was the same for you and me. We all knew the deal – we knew what we had to do. They left quickly, without any complaints. Even when we know it’s wrong, our reaction to expressing these legitimate feelings can make the situation worse.”
Once the hotel staff left, Malone immediately called NASP Executive Director Dr. Kathleen Minke and NASP Director of Meetings and Conferences Glenn Reighart. Malone said their immediate understanding and support of her experience made a huge difference to her.
“He doesn’t have to explain [Minke] I didn’t take for granted why it was racist and for her to understand that,” Malone said. “Black people rarely get the benefit of the doubt and have to dissect why something was racist or our experiences are painful. The fact that she didn’t have to, and her, as well as the other NASP staff, who jumped into action the very next morning, was incredibly empowering.”
Katherine C. Cowan, director of marketing and communications at NASP, said they had two clear responsibilities from NASP’s perspective, and the first was to make sure Malone was OK. The second was to be as transparent as possible. With Malone’s permission, Cowan and her team took to social media to share what happened.
“Our position has always been to make sure reparations are taken in a way that meets Celeste’s needs as a president and as an individual, a black woman,” Cowan said. “We are still negotiating some details with Hyatt.”
The resulting negotiations so far include an official public apology issued by Hyatt Regency Denver CEO Gregory Leonard. An investigation has also been launched into Hyatt employees involved in the matter, and the hotel has committed to diversity, equity and inclusion retraining for all hotel employees. Hyatt said they will compensate and offer a personal apology to all those affected and make donations to organizations identified by NASP.
Hyatt representatives did not respond to requests for further comment.
Malone said the incident made her think more broadly about the safety of people of color and other marginalized communities at conventions. NASP’s response reaffirmed her commitment to the organization, she said.
“For every professional and academic society, how do you make sure that your colleges of color, your LGBTQ+ colleagues, all feel safe in those spaces? Do you speak for them and stand up for them too? Malone asked. “This is reflected in your statements on diversity, equality and inclusion. How does it look in practice? NASP is a good example of this and other organizations need to think the same.
Liann Herder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.