capIt sounds like a joke, doesn’t it? A single woman is offered a job as a college president, where she will live in the college’s presidential home, but her contract forbids any cohabitation with a romantic partner. Maybe this would be plausible if it had happened in the last century?

No, this is a real story, ripped from today’s headlines. Dr. Gwendolyn Boyd, a 58-year-old single woman, will be the next president of her alma mater, the historically Black Alabama State University. Here’s the key part of her contract:

“For so long as Dr. Boyd is President and a single person, she shall not be allowed to cohabitate in the President’s residence with any person with whom she has a romantic relation.”

My first thought (beyond outrage and disbelief) was that perhaps this was someone who had never left the state of Alabama and was used to very conservative attitudes. Not so. She has a master’s in mechanical engineering from Yale and a doctorate in divinity from Howard. She is coming back to Alabama State from Johns Hopkins University. President Obama named her to his Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans.

Gwendolyn Boyd’s spokesperson told the media that she had read her contract and had no problem with it. She lives alone, Boyd said, so there’s no issue. (Several media reports are here, here, and here.)

I’m appalled at Alabama State University for including such a clause in its contract for its incoming President. I’m a bit more ambivalent about Boyd’s attempts to dismiss the whole thing with a “nothing to see here” kind of attitude. As a singles’ rights advocate, I’m disappointed. Here’s a powerful, accomplished woman with an opportunity to speak out and she just covers her ears and keeps her mouth closed.

At the same time, I know that there are costs to speaking out about such matters. I know it from the research showing that when people say they have been targets of discrimination, they are perceived very negatively by other people, even when it is abundantly clear that they are right – they have been discriminated against. I know it from the stories so many single people have told me about their own experiences. And, of course, I have experiences of my own.

The more vulnerable you are, the riskier it is to speak up about any injustice (or anything else that can be read as a complaint). Sure, Gwendolyn Boyd is a remarkably successful person. But she is also Black. And she’s a woman. And she’s single.

Strike three.


[Note: Thanks to Christina from Onely and my sister Lisa DePaulo for the heads-up about this story.]

Cap and diploma image available from Shutterstock.