“Disrespected, irritated, angry, and unwanted,” is how Jordyn Davis explained feeling after being met with a hostile environment from professors at Bakersfield College.
On Tuesday, Davis, BC professor Paula Parks, and other community members addressed the Kern Community College District (KCCD) Board. They mentioned several verbal or cyberattack incidents by professors from The Renegade Institute for Liberty. One incident is when they attended an Equal Opportunity and Diversity Advisory Committee (EODAC) meeting where Parks was purposing a racial climate task force in response to a survey saying Black students don’t feel safe on campus.
Several students from Umoja attended the meeting in support of Parks. Umoja is a program on campus aimed at increasing the transfer rates for Black students in community colleges and Parks is the coordinator of the program.
“Why the F are they here?” is what Davis heard BC professor, Catherine Jones, turn and tell another professor, Matthew Garrett.
When this comment was addressed in October at an academic senate meeting Jones stated that although she should not have used that word, she stood by her sentiment. She did not believe the students should have been “marched into the meeting” and said the students were being used as pawns.
“When we entered the room the atmosphere was tense. To say it was a cold feeling would be an understatement,” said Davis adding that when she smiled at Garrett he dismissively turned away.
Davis further explained that after Parks finished the proposal for the task force the professors in attendance immediately met her with criticism.
One professor that stuck out to Davis was Ximena Da Silva Tavares because she accused the survey of having leading questions to influence the student’s answers and said the data may be wrong since it was collected during COVID.
“These statements did not make any sense to me,” said Davis in response to Tavares’s comments. “Because personally, I know that since COVID racism on campus has increased. So why question the data when it’s obvious your students are suffering?”
Davis also remembered Garrett saying the results from the survey were incorrect and then insulting Parks personally and Umoja.
“What he said felt very personal and came from a place of hate. While he was saying this I felt a mixture of confusion and concern,” said Davis. “Confusion due to the fact that results say the students are not happy. Students of color are not feeling safe. This task force could help them and he’s fighting it.”
Davis expressed that she’s happy the task force was accepted but she wants answers as to why the teachers are allowed to act that way. She ended by saying that professors like this should not be allowed to make decisions for students.
This was not the only time professors from the Renegade Institute made the students feel uncomfortable. Parks explained that the institute had posted several posts on its Facebook page lying about the Umoja program. One lie told was that Umoja was only for Black students and other students were not allowed in, this is not true. Parks shared that the program does have students who are not Black as well.
According to Parks, the page has also stated that the program’s village, a safe space for Umjoa students, was segregated and “an improper use of state funds.”
“In addition, comments under the post were designed to upset people,” said Parks. “They challenged white people to go over to the Village space and see if they’d be turned away and confront whoever was there.”
On October 1 a post similar to this was made where the Renegade Institute for Liberty posted about the classes saying they are “racially segregated.” In the comments of the post, people asked if the classes were only for Black students and some said it’s not segregation. The institute responded to these comments by saying it is de facto segregation. The page compared the Umjoa classes to if there was a White Nationalist group on campus.
Although the posts do not say which of the professors are posting, the page is linked to the BC email of Matthew Garrett.
Parks stated that this behavior from the Renegade Institute for Liberty started a year ago. Parks and each of the people who spoke on the topic explained that the students deserve a safe environment.
“The Renegade Institute for Liberty claims to promote free speech,” said Parks in a release. “Instead, this group promotes hate by spreading lies and misinformation about the programs and groups that support students of color, low-income students, as well as LGBTQ + students. The institute is divisive and dangerous.”
Anita Bailey who works with Umjoa in Sacramento explained that the teachers should be making the students feel welcomed when on campus. She continued to say that the students will not return if they don’t feel safe in class.
“Those who are supposed to be teaching them should be behind them, nurturing them not traumatizing them,” said Bailey. “We are the voice of the students.. if we are not speaking up for them then why are we here?”
Ernest Bridges a retired professor from the CSU system who also works with Umoja spoke about the need for change. Bridges explained that he fought in the Civil Rights movement when he was in undergrad with “a dream to overcome”. Yet at 80 years old he’s having to speak to a school board about these incidents.
Bridges continued to express the urgent need for change.
“We’re sitting here discussing an atmosphere of hostility. We must do something about that today,” said Bridges. “We don’t have the luxury of time… we must change this today. It must end now.”