Former Boston University Student Orientation Director Shiny James resigned on Monday after a a six-month external investigation The university announced this week in an accusation of former student staff that she verbally and emotionally insulted them. James held that position for 15 years before being transferred last fall.
The investigation was called by Fr. article in the independent student newspaper BU, the Daily free presslast October, in which current students and alumni shared their experiences of working under James in what many called a toxic work environment.
Students referred to public tirades that James spoke to the entire staff member orientation, as well as to private meetings in which she denigrated them for minor mistakes such as typos.
In an official statement issued Monday, Boston University did not say whether the investigation confirmed any of the allegations made by students – only the result was the resignation of James. The university also said it could not provide more public information about the findings, citing confidentiality on internal personnel matters.
“We are grateful to those students and alumni who have expressed concern about Ms. James’ behavior and shared their experiences with an outside investigator,” the statement said. “We look forward to new leadership and positive changes in orientation.”
Sally Kim, who worked as a student counselor at James in the summer of 2016, described James’ behavior toward her and other students as “inappropriate, vindictive, and abusive.”
Kim, who graduated in 2018, recalled one case when she had to postpone a meeting with James about an incoming student who needed housing. She said James spent just 10 minutes talking about the student, and another half hour, “verbally attacking” her and denigrating her character for the transfer.
“She told me I was right and said she had heard from other students that I was selfish and always put myself in the spotlight,” Kim said. Inside the Supreme Ed. “She said I would not succeed in the future if I continued to do so.”
Later, when she came in tears to a meeting with another orientation administrator, Kim said she was told, “It’s just Shiny.”
“He said, ‘She just wants the best for you – she’s just giving you hard love,'” Kim recalls. “I just remember coming back that day and feeling so bad.”
James did not respond to a request for comment.
Several former fellow students were told Inside the Supreme Ed that James held semi-regular “parsing meetings” after orientation classes, in which she gave long, vivid tirades about the mistakes made by group leaders, after which everyone formed a line to apologize in person.
Kim said she was not the only student orientation worker in her cohort who felt James ’behavior was inappropriate.
“There was a general sense of fear and stress when it came to Shina,” she said.
Judging by the decisive reaction to October Daily free press article, dozens of former employees felt that way. The comments section of the article is many times longer than the story itself, and is filled with testimonies – some signed, others – anonymous – about the deplorable experience students had in working with James.
Mike Parnela, who worked as an orientation counseling student in the summer of 2013, said Inside the Supreme Ed that he was injured while working with James and he was surprised by the large number of other former employees who suffered the same.
“It’s been a long time,” said Parnela, who graduated from BU in 2015. “But I was honestly shocked by the scale of it and the fact that it lasted so long.”
Parnela described James’ behavior toward student workers as manipulative, verbally abusive, and sometimes violent.
He recalled one staff meeting in the morning after he and a group of other workers were asked to collect signs placed around campus for arriving students. After working until one o’clock in the morning, gathering them, Parnela said, they came to the meeting to find one sign they had forgotten, laid on a table next to an enraged James.
“She’s starting to scream that we’re inattentive, we’re really lazy, we should have been better than that,” he said.
Then James tore off part of the sign and threw it at them, knocking the rest to the ground. And she kept screaming, Parnela said.
“I remember leaving and a lot of people were upset … but they really wanted her approval,” he said. “So the takeaway was: we have to do better next week.”
Parnela and Kim said James ‘behavior was normal: she clung to the students’ mistake, even a small one, and scolded them for the personal shortcomings she thought she found.
“Anything that is considered remotely unprofessional will immediately turn into an attack on your personal nature,” Parnela said. He recalled that one day, after a colleague emailed her instead of calling James to say he was late for a meeting, she publicly disgraced him for being a “coward”.
For student workers, this shift between praise and denigration proved to be psychologically difficult.
“She expected us to be wonderful and perfect at all times, when all she did was break up students with her words and mostly psychological warfare,” Kim said.
Kim said she was afraid to speak out because James made it clear that she has influence and power not only in BU, but also in a broader sense in higher education – an area that Kim planned to enter after graduation.
Kim recounted how James looked at the student workers, “to remind us that she had eyes and ears everywhere.”
“I was petrified that if I said something false about my experience, Shini would hear about it and blacklist me or something,” Kim said.
Parnela and Kim said their experience of working under James had a lasting impact on their mental health, especially in the workplace. According to them, such tasks as sending e-mails or meeting one-on-one with executives are now causing them great anxiety.
“I was always worried that I would make one mistake and it would lead to me being fired… and it still remains at work, although I love my job,” said Parnela, who works in social services and health.
Hope, relief and some skepticism
It’s been six years since Kim worked under James, and she’s reviewed her experience with her therapist many times since then, she said. But she’s still emotionally talking about it.
“I think back, and I was actually only 19 years old … by law you’re an adult, but you’re actually still a child,” she said, panting. “No one should tolerate such treatment.”
Kim and Parnela said they have “mixed feelings” about the news of James ’resignation.
“All other administrators [leading orientation] are accomplices in [James’s conduct]because when she showed her worst behavior, they all stood in the room and looked at it and said nothing, ”Parnela said.
“If this resignation means that Shiny James is no longer continuing the abuse that many of us have had to endure, then I am happy with that,” Kim said. “I want to hope, but really, I don’t know how much that will change.”
However, Kim said her overwhelming feeling is relief.
“People are finally listening to us,” she said. “It was a cure for so many people.”