The Collegian
Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Student group rallies around library worker fired for misuse of resources

During the summer, supervisors at the Boatwright Memorial Library terminated Joanita Senoga, a librarian who worked as a customer service and night associate.

Student librarians, along with alumni and community members are insisting that the decision be reviewed and overturned.

Fliers around residence halls, as well as a Facebook group created earlier this semester, claim that Senoga's termination was unjust. Leah Ching, a student employee at the library, created stickers to support reinstating Senoga.

Senoga graduated from the School of Professional and Continuing Studies at the University of Richmond in 2006, the same year she began working at the library. She has received honors from the university, including a book award established in her name.

Upon her dismissal, administrators told Senoga that they were investigating her alleged misuse of university resources and insubordination, said Jay Levit, a Richmond-based lawyer working with Senoga. Student employees at the library dispute those claims, and two have quit their jobs or work under different supervisors because of Senoga's termination. One of those employees is Stephanie Laird, a senior who worked at the library this summer.

Since the matter is pending in the legal system, Senoga declined to comment for this article. Discussions are underway with representatives from the university to negotiate an agreement, Levit said.

Students could be considered an example of resources Senoga misused, Laird said. "Occasionally, she might ask the students at the desk to fold fliers or address letters, small tasks that do not take much time," she said.

Laird said the requests had been part of Senoga's responsibility as the adviser of Givology Spiders, a student organization that worked with the Circle of Peace School in Uganda, her native country. Senoga founded the school in 1994 to help educate orphans, students with HIV/AIDS, and students who cannot afford to pay fees to attend traditional schools in Uganda.

"They [administrators] would use that as, 'Oh she's using those students for something other than library work,'" Laird said. "While that may be true from a biased perspective, the library has never suffered from this." Laird said Senoga would only ask her to do Givology tasks if there had been nothing else to do.

Richmond faculty and students have a history of volunteering at the Circle of Peace School or supporting its mission in other ways. Senior David Davenport earned a $10,000 grant from the Davis Projects for Peace Foundation to build a chicken farm at the school. He is leading efforts to tell the Richmond community about Senoga's termination.

"One of the things I realized is that there is this incongruency between Joanita's official role as our adviser," Davenport said, "and the way that her supervisors in the library have perceived her responsibilities as an employee of the university.

"The perfect example of this is - she would be doing her work, and I would go by to talk to her, which I did frequently at least once or twice a week. Joanita would say, 'Look, I can't talk to you right now; you're going to have to come back later because my supervisor is here.' The first time she said that, I was like - 'Whoa, what's going on? You're our official adviser.'"

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While Laird said she hadn't minded helping with tasks during her free time at the library, requests like these may have been grounds to terminate Senoga.

One student filed an anonymous complaint about Senoga's requests to help with Givology Spiders, Levit said.

"I think what they're doing is defining the Circle of Peace School as her own project, which is nonsensical," Levit said. "It's a University of Richmond project, and it was the university that appointed her as the student adviser of Givology Spiders."

Davenport said Senoga's termination contradicted the Richmond Promise, a five-year strategic plan for the university created by President Edward Ayers.

According to the promise, staff and faculty are recognized for promoting diversity and inclusivity in their professional activities through university compensation and reward systems. It also declares a commitment to supporting community-based learning organizations outside of the United States, according to the university website.

"All that she has done for the University of Richmond community, and all of the current students, me, the alumni, even the image of the school, is astounding," Davenport said. "The promise is based off of advancing the school and becoming more open-minded and building cross-cultural connections and international connections -- this just violates all of those goals.

"Because of her, I've been able to do things that have enhanced my skill set and I think really make me marketable for whatever I apply for." Davenport said he had gained community-organizing and leadership skills while working with the Circle of Peace School.

Senoga's daughter, Josie, graduated from Richmond this summer. Levit said Josie had written President Ayers a letter about her mother, and Ayers had written in his reply that Senoga would be treated fairly.

"She has not been treated fairly from as far as I can see at this point," Levit said. "Her discharge is inexplicable."

It is unclear which resources Senoga allegedly misused and how she was insubordinate. According to a pamphlet published this year by the Boatwright Memorial Library, staff members have access to the library's computers and printers, movies, audiobooks and music, as well as a collection of magazines and newspapers.

Library administrator Kevin Butterfield declined to explain details regarding Senoga's termination. Senoga's former supervisor, Cassandra Taylor-Anderson, also refused to comment. Carl Sorensen, the Associate Vice President of Human Resources, also refused to explain why Senoga was terminated because of a confidentiality policy and because the matter was under legal review.

Levit said he had repeatedly requested the specifics surrounding Senoga's termination from administrators, but had been denied that information.

"At no time has the university ever claimed or asserted that she did not perform her job duties, and that's significant," Levit said."They have not said she did not perform, or performed unsatisfactorily. She was a top-flight performer. And when you have a top-flight performer, how did she suddenly, out of the blue, misuse university resources?"

Jennifer Johnson, a senior who has worked at the library for about three years, was involved in an incident with Senoga. One night in March, Johnson worked at the main service desk of the library when a replacement could not cover the shift. She worked for two hours, although she was not trained in the position.

"Being a library employee as long as I have, I spend a lot of time around the main service desk, and I knew what to do," Johnson said. At the end of the shift, Senoga did not report that Johnson helped out at the desk, but Johnson did. Johnson said the discrepancy had been blown out of proportion because after Senoga was reprimanded, some librarians continued to discuss the issue at the end of the semester.

"At most, there should have been some sort of meeting, where all of us could have sat down and discussed the situation," Johnson said. "That never happened. They just hung Joanita out to dry unfairly." Johnson said if she had the means to quit her job at the library, she would.

Laird said Senoga, whose first language was not English, would often be asked to rewrite reports and other statements multiple times. She would help Senoga read over and edit documents. "It was very professional, and it was good work," she said. "However, her supervisor would come back and say it wasn't sufficient."

Levit said he was seeking to find out the truth and disseminate it to alumni, donors, students and to the public. "I'm going to convince them that this is not a little game," he said.

Contact contributor Keon Monroe at

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