Posted on June 25, 2023

Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum Fires a Longtime Employee for Requesting a Definition of ‘Systemic Racism’

Brian T. Allen, National Review, June 22, 2023

There are many reasons to skip museums in giving end-of-fiscal-year gifts. Places like the Getty and the Met, with multibillion-dollar endowments, are worthy but not needy, though the Met is worthy only part of the time.


I wouldn’t give a farthing, sou, or even a Bulgarian stotinka — worth 1/100th of a penny on a good day — to a museum with a diversity, equity, and inclusion program. {snip} It’s the framework for firing competent, hardworking staff who challenge DEI’s toxic pieties. This is unfolding right now at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford.

The Atheneum is America’s oldest museum open to the public. It’s got a distinguished history and superb collection. Right now, its extreme DEI regime has landed it in federal court. A long-time, respected staffer questioned the regime and was — within days — fired. She’s arguing that the museum trashed her free-speech rights. I think she has a very good case.


Riotte v. Wadsworth Atheneum is the case. I read the complaint filed by Kate Riotte and the answer provided by Atheneum. They’re public documents. In 2021, Riotte, a white, college-educated woman who was the curatorial department’s administrator, volunteered to serve on the Atheneum’s new diversity, equity, and inclusion task force. After attending meetings for a month, Riotte learned that the museum’s high-salary DEI consultant had, working with the museum’s top brass, developed an equity-and-diversity plan that, she felt, seemed to require race-based hiring.

Riotte, who’d worked for the Atheneum for six unblemished years and steadily advanced in responsibilities, emailed the co-chairs of the DEI task force. She asked, “Why is equity essential for the growth of the Wadsworth Atheneum?” “Equity” meant that all staffers had to land in the same place in terms of work quality, and if they didn’t, racism would be the culprit. “I would think that striving for equity would be detrimental to the museum,” she said.

She asked why advancing equity is attainable, or even desirable, in a museum. Also, she asked how the museum defines “systemic racism,” a term it plans to sprinkle throughout its website. And she requested “more information to help me understand this.” She didn’t send her email to anyone else.


One co-chairwoman — Anne Rice, the museum’s education director — sent Riotte a list of things to read, which Riotte reviewed. A few days later, Linda Roth, who was Riotte’s supervisor, and Deputy Director of Operations Michael Dudich, who was also the acting HR director, summoned Riotte to a Zoom meeting. The pair acknowledged that some of the terms and themes were complex, commended Riotte for making an honest effort to understand them, and told her that some of her questions showed “a political agenda.” No one asked Riotte whether she’d read the equity resources suggested to her.

They told her that one of the co-chairmen, a “person of color,” was offended. She’d already gotten a bullying email from this man suggesting she favored “the continuation of oppression.” They added that Riotte wouldn’t have much of a museum career unless she embraced “allyship,” which means acknowledging the primacy of racism in America and embracing the DEI agenda.

The aggrieved co-chairman, Joe Bun Keo, is an artist and an art handler at the museum. He’s Cambodian American. {snip}

In his artist statement, he foregrounds gender, power, the oppressive nature of Buddhism, intergenerational trauma, and Cambodian culture, among a hodgepodge of other things. {snip}

Like the curious journalist I am, I read Keo’s entire email. He said he “was quite confused” by her questions, which seem straightforward, but he’s a dope. “From first glance, it can be interpreted as you being a proponent for allowing the continuation of oppression and denial of developmental opportunities for those who have historically been left out of the equation.”

Lots of blah, blah, blah follows about the dominant white-male Eurocentric narrative, police brutality, and how about those sugar bowls? “Why have an exhibition about beautiful porcelain sugar vessels and not discuss the slavery that was rampant during the sugar trade at the time?” he wrote. {snip}


Three days after the Zoom meeting, on a Friday, Riotte’s supervisor sent her home early to “self-reflect.” A few hours later, Riotte couldn’t access her museum email. On Monday, Dudich fired her because of “her views on equity and equality.” Later that day, he emailed Riotte, telling her that “while questioning and understanding are acceptable and encouraged workplace behavior, the opinions you expressed in your email . . . were highly confrontational to the museum’s core espoused institutional values.”


Riotte wants a jury trial. It’ll happen in a New Haven courtroom, with few latte liberals to be found in a pool heavy on middle-class locals who don’t believe that smarts and striving should be detrimental to success. Not even the Yale professors I know like DEI. They don’t like teaching students who didn’t get there by merit.