In response to accusations of racism, Wellesley College alumna and trustee Henrietta H. Holsman two weeks ago resigned from the college Board of Trustees after weeks of controversy following a speech she gave at a January class at Wellesley.
According to students who attended the lecture, Holsman, president of a California wire company, said Blacks would rather sell drugs than work. She reportedly said that whites felt degraded by manual labor and that Asian-American workers had a high turnover rate because they usually go on to banking.
Holsman's remarks at the winter session class, open to all who want to attend, "startled me so much that I wasn't sure if I'd heard her correctly," said Peggy Byrd, a Brown University senior who walked out of the lecture.
In the wake of the controversy over the speech, Holsman, a 1970 Wellesley graduate, resigned her trustee post, saying she felt her resignation would be in the best interests of Wellesley College.
"I could not stand by while Wellesley was torn apart on such an issue [racism] for which neither Wellesley or I stand," Holsman said. "I felt I didn't get a chance to speak before I was judged," she added.
Holsman said her remarks were taken out of context and that she had no intention of making generalizations about people of different races. She said she was speaking only about her personal experiences with her own company.
"I did say I had had experience with employees who had said those things to me. I was trying to speak of a specific instance but it was inferred that I was generalizing," she said.
Two students, including Byrd, left the lecture on entrepreneurship because they found it offensive.
"I thought that she made very patronizing and condescending remarks about the Caribbean, and I was offended by them," said Erica H.S. Samuels, a Wellesley junior from Jamaica who left the lecture. "Regardless of her explanation her remark was a racist one," she said.
Prior to Holsman's resignation, she had served for eight months on the 35-member Board of Trustees. She had been elected to the Board, the college's major policy-making body, by Wellesley alumnae.