An Elon University professor, Robin Attas, is returning to Canada because of the racism that her family has experienced in North Carolina. Attas says her Nicaraguan husband, Nicolás Narváez Soza, and their children have experienced numerous incidences of racism since moving to the Burlington area in 2013.


While most of the racism was subtle, it occurred on a regular basis. Three events stood out for the couple.

Last year Narváez Soza and their two children, now aged 2 and 5, were in the front yard. Someone in a pickup threw a bottle out the window and yelled, “f***ing Mexicans go home.”

A similar incident happened to her husband and the children at a playground a few weeks ago.

These occurrences are mild compared to her husband’s experience with a police officer last fall. Narváez Soza was pulled over for his third time in Greensboro. The officer accused him of driving without a seat belt, even though he had it on. The officer asked for his ID and Narváez Soza explained that he had to get it from the backseat. He then got out of the car and started walking to the back door. The office responded by reaching for his gun.

Narváez Soza told the Elon News Network, “I thought ‘Oh my God, I’ve seen stuff happening on TV like policemen not being patient or just shooting people.’ Narváez Soza said. ‘I felt very scared.’ ”

The couple decided to move back to Canada after that event. “For me at least, at that point, I was pretty much done with North Carolina and I think honestly the United States,” Attas said. “It’s so sad in a way, because I know that the entire country is not like here, and I know so many wonderful Americans, but this experience tainted everything.”

In a written statement Tuesday, Elon President Leo Lambert described Attas as an active scholar with a body of work that has been recognized. He felt her departure was a loss to the university.

“Ultimately, discrimination and acts of bias are rooted in ignorance,” Lambert said responding to The News & Observer by email. “It’s our responsibility as a university community to reach beyond the borders of our campus in order to ensure our broader community will be renowned for its openness and acceptance.”