Fullerton College students and faculty expressed concerns over the college’s “performative” anti-racism statement, believing their administration has failed to recognize the role that race played in the events following a viral video that made international headlines.
While the name of the Cypress College instructor seen in the video was left out of public statements to protect her identity for her safety, it triggered a series of threats and harassment towards the entire North Orange County Community College District community.
This came after the three-minute clip showed the adjunct instructor, a Muslim woman, in what seemed to be a heated debate with a student about police; it was later revealed that the video was taken out of context.
Eiman, a Muslim woman of color and Fullerton College student, attributed the attacks as an act of racism. She declined to give her last name for her safety.
“Faculty members with visibly Muslim and/or Arabic names were targeted by right-wing troops and folks with that certain ideology. I think that’s one important thing that has gone unnoticed as to why they were targeted,” she said.
Fullerton College full-time Sociology Professor Mohammad Abdel Haq noted the several anonymous emails, messages and phone calls to his personal phone.
“It’s an unmistakable disproportionate targeting of women, those that are Muslim or perceived as Muslim people that have a name similar to mine, or women of color,” Abdel Haq said. “These are the people that have been unmistakably targeted.”
As lead negotiator of the United Faculty labor union, Abdel Haq recalled receiving reports from other faculty members of threats and harassment via email, social media and other methods of communication as early as Friday, April 30, two days after the video was recorded.
Cypress College limited on-campus interactions in the following week as a safety precaution.
An internal email related to the discussion at Cypress was sent to all Fullerton College staff on behalf of college President Greg Schulz. The message reinforced the values of academic freedom for all faculty.
Schulz wrote, “Furthermore, our faculty who identify as Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) and faculty from groups that have been historically marginalized are likely to experience a higher degree of pressure as it relates to academic freedom. Fullerton College stands with you.”
The email provided safety protocols for faculty and staff that encounter a threat. It didn’t acknowledge that many members who’ve already received harassment are from marginalized groups.
A Fullerton College adjunct instructor was unsatisfied with the email. They chose to remain anonymous for concerns of their safety.
“Historically, academia, especially on the administrative side, doesn’t really stand up on the side of justice, it doesn’t really have a social justice backbone. The more specific they get, it looks like they’re taking a side. So, if they can be very on the surface, they will usually take that route, because it’s the safest for them.”
They categorized it with other emails they’ve read addressing a crisis, believing there won’t be strong action in order to maintain the college’s political relationships.
“They’ll have anti-racist workshops, they’ll do more things to have diversity, equity, inclusion trainings. But then when it comes down to really addressing systems of oppression, they tend to go very silent, or they deflect what’s really hard,” they explained.
Eiman discussed the college’s statement of ethics on the Office of the President’s webpage.
“It’s 100% performative. Obviously, no institution is perfect. But when you’re using words, or statements or phrases like ‘equitable manner,’ ‘recognize the need for openness and reliability in what we say and do,’ and you don’t live up to those expectations, it’s very disappointing,” Eiman said.
Associated Students released a statement with their view on the incident, highlighting Cypress and Fullerton College’s anti-racist policies.
“If or when an anti-racist policy exists, it must be enforced, whether to do so is a popular position or whether it is not. If the policy is not enforced, then the policy is performative – it lacks action and serves to protect no one. It is not enough to have a written policy for antiracism, it must be applied to be effective,” the statement reads.
The statement goes on to explain how the incident at Cypress relates to Fullerton College, urging its leaders to prove their anti-racism, among other demands.
“Should Fullerton College fail to stand behind and uphold their anti-racism policy while also holding faculty and students alike accountable to the college policies, the domino effect that follows could lead to the collapse of the classroom experience, and in turn, a lack of academic freedom.”
Fullerton College consistently promotes its anti-racism statement, citing it during the State of the College presentation and last month’s Black Student Success Week.
“That is a bold statement for a college to get behind. It’s self-reflective, and it’s stating a commitment,” Lisa McPheron, Director of Campus Communications said. “Fullerton College is fully committed to being an anti-racist college and I don’t believe it’s performative.”
According to McPheron, Fullerton administration is not a part of the investigation at Cypress College, and responding in a public setting would be a distraction to it.
“The college has a high level of self-awareness through that anti-racism statement, that things are not perfect … So if any member of our campus community is feeling discriminated against, feels threatened, feels as if they’re not supported, the college wants to remedy that as best as possible,” McPheron said. “Not being able to speak to an ongoing investigation at another college shouldn’t diminish Fullerton College’s commitment to anti-racism.”
When asked if the concerns over performative anti-racism will be addressed once the investigation is over, McPheron responded “that will have to be determined.”