After being suspended from completing an internship in July, Social Work student Ta-Kara Roquemore and those representing her say she is now prepared to take legal action against the University unless she is allowed to continue the job.

Roquemore said she was dismissed from her field work — the final required step in attaining her degree — last semester, after police charged her with resisting arrest and obstructing justice in May for an incident that took place Nov. 27, 2013.

After being charged, Roquemore said she notified the School of Social Work and the field liaison in charge of her internship.

“When I ended up telling U of M and my field liaison about it, they ended up saying, ‘OK, we’re going to help you out,’ ” Roquemore said. “By the time I was coming back to do my internship, they told me I could not come in and do the internship anymore.”

She met with administrators in the School of Social Work again in July.

“They basically told me that I was a liability to the campus and a risk to the campus, and until this is dismissed, I wasn’t going to be allowed to do my internship anymore,” she said. “University of Michigan School of Social Work has created unnecessary hardship for me by getting in the way of my education. Right now, you probably wouldn’t even know about this story if they had just allowed me to finish my internship. I would’ve graduated already and I would already be working.”

In that meeting — which Roquemore’s mother, a graduate of the School of Social Work, attended — Roquemore said administrators told her they were “standing by some kind of policy, which they never sent me in writing.”

In a follow-up e-mail sent Oct. 2, Mike Spencer, associate dean of educational programs, reached out to Roquemore regarding her pending case after By Any Means Necessary — a national coalition fighting for affirmative action, immigration rights and general equality — began advocating on Roquemore’s behalf. The group speaks on campus frequently and protested Roquemore’s case outside the Social Work School Nov. 12.

“It was our understanding that we agreed that we would pursue a return to your field placement once there is a resolution to your case, which I believe is coming up very soon,” Spencer wrote. “Our understanding was also that you wished to return to your former field placement, but that you understood that they could not have you at the agency while your case was pending. Would you like to discuss this further with us? If so, please let me know and we will schedule a meeting. I know this is a difficult time for you and I wish you the best in your upcoming court case. If you have any updates, that would be useful to know.”

Roquemore said she felt her suspension alone was wrong and that the underlying message of the e-mail was unfair. She said the case may take a while to be resolved in court and her education should not be impeded when the charges against her have not been proven true.

“It’s really an unfair practice that they’re doing,” she said. “I’m innocent until proven guilty. I haven’t even seen a day in court, and they decided to take my education in their own hands and stop me from completing (it). It’s so unreal right now that this has happened … this didn’t have to go this way.”

The unspecified policy Roquemore spoke of may refer to the Social Work School’s Student Code of Academic and Professional Conduct as well as its terms for removal from field placement.

According to the code of conduct, “Generally, unacceptable professional misconduct refers to behavior that calls into question a student’s ability or fitness to practice as a professional social worker. Students are expected to adhere to the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics which is hereby incorporated under these policies and procedures and to the policies and procedures of the student’s fieldwork site.”

One of the “major offenses” listed as a violation of this code is “criminal activity.” The term does not specify whether “activity” refers pending cases or charges, decided court cases or both.

Furthermore, the policy for removing a student from field placement appears to be somewhat discretionary. The policy reads, “The Field Faculty has ultimate responsibility for decisions related to the student’s placement. At any point in the field placement, the field instructor or Field Faculty can request immediate removal of the student from the fieldwork site … should they deem that continuing the student seriously places at risk the quality of the services delivered to clients and/or the reputation of the fieldwork site.”

Roquemore added that she felt the actions taken by the Social Work School constituted institutionalized racism. Touting this alleged injustice, members of BAMN gathered outside the school Nov. 12 to protest what they said was Roquemore’s wrongful suspension from field work.

The group, along with Roquemore herself, carried signs and chanted a number of slogans, including, “This racist school has got to pay, Ta-Kara has shown the way.” Some signs compared her case to that of former Michigan kicker Brendan Gibbons, who was also a Social Work student, seeking to parallel the treatment of a white student accused of sexual assault to her situation and asking whether both students were evaluated by the same standards.

Elizabeth H. Voshel, associate clinical professor of social work and director of field instruction, said in a phone interview that she could not comment on Roquemore’s case, adding that “We (at the School of Social Work) imminently strive to help all our students be successful.”

University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said he was aware of Wednesday’s protest but, like Voshel, could not comment on “an individual situation,” nor could he speak to the meetings that Roquemore said she had with administrators from the Social Work School.

Fitzgerald did, however, confirm in an e-mail that Roquemore is still an “active U-M graduate student,” adding that “the staff at Social Work very much want to work with her.”

Roquemore’s pending case pertains to an incident the night before Thanksgiving of last year. Roquemore was at her mother’s Ypsilanti home with a friend, Dalia Kenbar, when a social worker from Children’s Protective Services and a couple of police officers knocked on the door.

The social worker, Roquemore said, had an ex parte, a court order that allows for government officials to take custody of a child if a judge is shown that “serious harm will occur if an order is not entered before the other party has the opportunity to respond,” according to the Michigan legislature’s website.

Roquemore said she was reluctant to let the worker and accompanying police officers into the house, because the ex parte order was written for Kenbar’s address, not Roquemore’s mother’s house. Regardless, Roquemore said, she was confident that her friend’s child was not in imminent danger. She said the police then forced themselves into her mother’s home, and she claims the police aggressively pushed her around before ultimately taking her friend’s child.

Bob Wheaton, acting manager of communications for the state’s Department of Human Services, said in an e-mail interview that CPS does, at times, remove children from a home other than the parent’s home: “If we didn’t do that, parents could avoid court orders.”

This can be done only after CPS “substantiates abuse or neglect,” he said, finding that “removal is the best course of action.” At this point, only once the local court grants a petition to do so can action be carried out. Wheaton added that he could not speculate about the application of these rules to the case of Roquemore’s friend.

Roquemore also noted that CPS had taken away one of her friend’s children before, but said Kenbar’s circumstances were quite different in the previous case.

“The police feel like I obstructed justice that night by getting in the way of the door (and) telling them that they weren’t going to take my friend’s baby,” she said. “I wanted to protect my friend’s baby. They had no real basis for being there that night.”

Although she was arrested, Roquemore said, she was not charged at the time. Days later, on Dec. 2, Detroit’s ABC affiliate broadcasted a story about the incident. In the segment, Kenbar’s attorney said CPS failed to investigate and evaluate Kenbar’s living situation before seizing custody of her infant. Furthermore, the CPS investigator said in court that nothing appeared to be wrong with the home when Kenbar’s child was taken.

Only six months after the fact, Roquemore said, did police charge her with obstruction of justice and resisting arrest, which sparked the suspension of her field work and has led to subsequent outcry from Roquemore and BAMN.

Jose Alvarenga, a BAMN national organizer who helped organize the Nov. 12 protest, said the organization became aware of Roquemore’s story at a BAMN tribunal session held last semester to address racism on campus.

“It’s not justified at all to condemn her as a criminal before she even had a single day in court to present her case,” Alvarenga said. “(The School of Social Work) is doing to her the complete opposite of what a school that stands for social justice should be doing.”

In addition to mobilizing the protest, Alvarenga and other local members of BAMN encouraged students to “pack the courtroom” to support Roquemore at her first hearing Nov. 18, which took place in the Washtenaw County Courthouse at 415 W. Michigan Ave. in Ypsilanti. There, one of BAMN’s lawyers, Shanta Driver, represented Roquemore.

Roquemore also said Driver will represent her if the University does not allow her to complete her internship, although she did not provide a timeline for this potential litigation. Kate Stenvig, another BAMN national organizer who said she works closely with Driver, echoed this statement.

“She should’ve graduated already … (the University is) saying, ‘Oh we’re willing to work with you,’ but they’re sending those e-mails to calm down the situation and make it seem like they’re offering her back her internship,” Stenvig said. “But they’re not, they’re saying, ‘We’re not going to work with you on this until all your court hearings are over.’ That’s the problem.”

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