Op-Ed by: BC Professor, Paula L. Parks Ph.D
As seven African American students walked into a committee meeting at Bakersfield College, there were murmurs, frowns, and hostile stares. One faculty member said to another, “What the f— are they doing here?”
The meeting was the Equal Opportunity and Diversity Advisory Committee (EODAC) meeting. The agenda item the students came to support was a Racial Climate Task Force that I proposed.
And, ironically, the Racial Climate Task Force is to look into survey results that show BC students of color are more likely to experience racial microaggressions and physical and verbal attacks.
Afterward, one student said that, between the remark and dirty looks, “I did not feel safe in that room.”
As an added twist, the EODAC is a College committee that makes recommendations on advancing equity for students, staff, faculty, and administration. The Committee charge states that they “promot[e] attitudinal and institutional changes regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion” and “provid[e] workshops and trainings in diversity. . . to close gaps in employee groups and to promote awareness, action, and change to college values that consistently align with BC and KCCD’s diversity commitments.”
But, this issue is bigger than dirty looks from four faculty and a disdainful comment made by one professor; the professor has since said that she didn’t mean to curse and made the comment because she felt the students were being used as pawns. This is insulting because it implies that I manipulate my students and that students can’t decide for themselves whether or not to attend a meeting. Unprompted, she added that she isn’t racist.
And, the issue is bigger than what happened after I left; another professor stated that classified staff are not independent thinkers and should not have near equal membership with faculty on committees. The concern was that their managers would tell them what to do. Classified staff spoke tearfully at a recent KCCD Board of Trustees meeting about how hurt they felt at such elitist attitudes.
It’s unbelievable that those two incidents occurred in an EODAC meeting because both comments further marginalize groups of already marginalized people of color and center mostly white full-time tenured faculty.
And it’s bigger than what happened at the Curriculum Committee meeting the next week and widely covered by Bakersfield Californian reporter Jose Gaspar. He states that a professor requested to delay a vote on two non-credit leadership courses on Caesar Chavez and the farm workers on the grounds they promote partisan political activities. The courses were taken up at a subsequent meeting and approved.
All the previously mentioned professors are members of the Renegade Institute for Liberty (RIFL) and are part of a disturbing pattern of actions led by History Professor Matt Garrett, who has filed complaints against me and other professors and staff and sued KCCD legal counsel and a BC vice president. These lawsuits and complaints have been deemed “not sustained” by third-party counsel and cost the district thousands of dollars to investigate. RIFL, which is not a College-sanctioned group, has also brought in speakers that deny established facts about slavery and continued discrimination.
Typically, I’m not one to speak out. But my silence and that of others have emboldened the RIFL. The group has targeted the Umoja Community Program, which I coordinate. Umoja, which means “unity” in Kiswahili, is a BC program designed to increase the success and retention of African-American students. It offers courses, academic counseling, college visits, mentoring support, and cultural trips and activities. The statewide organization was created in response to data that showed African-American students needed support in access, course completion, and sequence completion in order to achieve equity. Founders compiled best practices in teaching students of color, which are followed by all the Umoja programs across the state. Umoja is funded by state dollars earmarked for student success and equity.
I’ve not responded to RIFL’s intimidating jabs at BC’s Umoja Community program through the RIFL Facebook page nor comments made on local radio shows. But those jabs are getting more pointed and closer and closer to my students. I brushed aside lies like RIFL’s claim that Umoja classes are only for Black students: not true. White and Latinx students have taken Umoja classes. As further harassment, RIFL has published salaries of Umoja faculty and criticized the long overdue, required study space for Umoja, calling the program “segregationist” and “militant.” What’s militant about quadrupling (4.2) the graduation and transfer rates of African-American students?
In general, RIFL has created negativity and division in the name of free speech. While there has been disagreement in the past, I’ve never seen such rude language and behavior in my 20-plus years at BC. They have encouraged this hostile, toxic environment.
Since BC’s slogan is “We Are BC,” I call on the community to join me in speaking out against the spreading of lies and misinformation designed to divide. Demand that BC College President Zav Dadabhoy, KCCD District Chancellor Sonya Christian, and the KCCD Board of Trustees do not allow such hateful rhetoric and actions to continue. The Renegade Institute for Liberty should not benefit from College branding nor use College facilities. They should not be allowed to create an environment where students and employees don’t feel safe.
My students were traumatized by the hostile reception they received at the EODAC meeting from faculty members of the Renegade Institute. Students recognize the sadly familiar feeling of racism, and their responses were painfully visceral. Observing faculty behavior in that committee meeting, one said she is rethinking her chosen career as a teacher.
Those who actively fight College core values of equity, student engagement, and student success should not serve on decision-making committees nor teach our students.
Dr. Parks is a Bakersfield College English professor and Umoja Community Coordinator.