For just under two hours, the Santa Barbara City College board meeting Thursday evening was largely silent. More than two dozen speakers signed up for public comment regarding Vice President of Business Services Lyndsay Maas’s return to campus. Maas was placed on unpaid leave in late November for using a racial slur during a gender and equity meeting. However, rather than express outrage, speakers chose to remain silent for their allotted five minutes. Speakers held signs reading “Students Against Injustice,” and some walked to the board trustees to display their signs, the silence occasionally interrupted by stomping.
To begin the two hours of silence, students stood behind boardmembers, holding signs and occasionally stomping. Student Tiani Mora, a member of the Black Student Union, college leadership, and the UMOJA program, was the first speaker, and she communicated to the board the students’ intentions behind the protest. “I think it’s pretty clear that all of you are a little bit uncomfortable,” said Mora, addressing the boardmembers surrounded by students. “What we’re doing today is letting you know. … You make us feel uncomfortable every single day.” She continued, “We are silent-protesting because you silence us.”
The protest was preceded by three public comments by women who were requesting the Pledge of Allegiance be reinstated into board meetings. The Pledge of Allegiance has not been scheduled on the agenda for the last two meetings. The first speaker was heckled by some of the protesters. Because the speaker was interrupted, Trustee Craig Nielsen moved the meeting be adjourned, but the motion did not pass.
Black Student Union President Naiha Dozier-El displays a sign reading, “Why Hide Her, When U Could Just Fire Her?” to board trustees during her five minutes of public comment. Credit: Paul Wellman
The board did take a 10-minute recess several minutes into the silent protest after Trustee Veronica Gallardo asked Board President Robert Miller to bring order to the meeting so she could adjust her chair. Once the meeting was back in session, Interim Student Trustee Kenny Igbechi addressed the board, saying, “These are our students. You should say hi; don’t be scared. … These are the students you represent. Say ‘hi.’ Smile to them. Don’t make faces.”
Students continued their silent protest, and most staff and faculty who had submitted a request to speak honored the students’ protest and also chose to stay silent. A few faculty members did share their thoughts with the board, among them librarian Ellen Carey. She spoke about the campus climate and questioned the necessity of a campus-climate survey when students have been sharing their experiences with racism at the board meetings held the last several months. “The lived experience of people of color on this campus, and especially black people, is one of oppression and hostility and gaslighting. You don’t need a survey to know that; you just need to be paying attention,” said Carey.
Faculty member Robin Goodnough read a letter to the board on behalf of the Santa Barbara City College Coalition of Justice. “During several meetings held on Tuesday, January 21st, to solicit ‘feedback’ from various groups on campus regarding the decision to allow Ms. Maas to return to her position, it was clearly stated that it was ‘right’ and ‘best’ for the institution to allow Ms. Maas to return; however, ‘right’ and best’ suggest a privileging of Ms. Maas and not the people on this campus who have been harmed by this incident,” read Goodnough. “We are asking that you listen to our concerns once again and use your leadership position to recognize and address this incident and Administration’s response as a symptom of the systemic racism at SBCC and the harm it inflicts on the community. We encourage you, as elected officials, to honor your responsibility to guide the institutional leaders to uphold the campus mission.”
Students are now asking for Lyndsay Maas to be fired and for the Board of Trustees to “do better” in their anti-racism work.
The college commented on the incident in a statement on Friday: “Peaceful demonstration is a bedrock of our democracy. We respect our students’ right to peacefully demonstrate and have their opinions heard. The Board cannot respond to comments or actions taken during public comment. However, the SBCC Board supports continued dialogue and action on important issues facing the College.”
Click here to view the meeting.
Editor’s Note: The story was corrected January 26. The article incorrectly stated that, “words were exchanged between the speakers and protestors.” The public comment speakers requesting the Pledge of Allegiance be reinstated did not address the protesters.