The Santa Barbara City College Board of Trustees meeting was drumming to a different beat this Thursday. Unlike almost every meeting since November, which have opened with fiery public comment from community members, this meeting kicked off with two lengthy presentations. General public comment was moved four hours into the meeting.
The first of the presentations was an informational report about ombuds programs and what role an ombuds could play at the college. An ombuds program is one of the options being considered by the board to help ease and work through racial tensions on campus and is one of the demands students have put forth. The second presentation, put on by the college’s legal counsel, Joseph Sholder and Craig Price, summarized the findings of the investigations on recent alleged racial discrimination incidents.
Since April 2018, the college has had nine reported incidents of alleged racial discrimination. Legal counsel presented on eight of those, leaving out one incident that is still under investigation. Most of the alleged incidents were found to be “unsubstantial” under the legal applicable standard, and one was found to be “entirely manufactured.” Trustees Jonathan Abboud and Student Trustee Kenny Igbechi were clearly not satisfied with the legal threshold that incidents must reach for action to take place. Price shared an example of a case, not in Santa Barbara, in which a woman had a noose hung above her workplace on two separate occasions and, legally, that still did not constitute illegal harassment or racial discrimination.
President Anthony Beebe said of the legal threshold, “What’s right is one thing; what’s legal could be a little bit of a different bar.” Beebe suggested the ombuds program could help the college set a higher standard for itself. “We’ve got to do better,” said Beebe.
The investigations did find that the college had shortcomings in the manner in which it’s been handling incidents and investigations. Two of the incidents reported sat in Human Resources for seven months until the faculty association insisted on proper closure. Counsel also stated that the college has not made it easy for students to make reports or for reports to be followed through. “When people complained at that November 19th board meeting that it certainly appeared to them that the college wasn’t taking these complaints seriously, they were right. They were right to complain about that,” said Sholder, “and we’re trying to fix it.”
One of the incidents reported involved campus security being called on an incoming student who is black and who was trying to use the computers at the Learning Resource Center (LRC). Counsel reported that by the time campus security arrived at the LRC, the student had been allowed to use the computer and that security did not confront the student. During public comment, Simon Ruskamp questioned, “Why would a staff member at Santa Barbara City College think it’s appropriate to call security on someone coming to register for classes and use a computer?”
Engineering student Damian Clogher also spoke during public comment and talked about racially insensitive incidents that he’s witnessed on campus. Clogher shared with the board that he was told on campus that black students need to be educated with humor. On a separate occasion, he witnessed a group of white students trying to argue that Hispanic students are scientifically less intelligent. “If you were willing to stop saying the pledge because you thought that’s what black students wanted, when no one actually asked you that, then I hope you’ll actually listen to what they are actually asking for,” Clogher told the board.
While the report did not find any of the incidents to fit the legal definition of harassment or racial discrimination, the majority of the board, including Beebe, acknowledged the work that needs to be done on campus. “It would be surprising if we don’t acknowledge racism here. We have a 400-year history that backs up the idea that we have work to do,” said Trustee Peter Haslund. Trustee President Robert Miller echoed Haslund’s sentiment, “I don’t think any of us up here think that the findings of those incidents somehow means there isn’t racism here … racism is alive and well in Santa Barbara County, and it’s alive and well on this campus.”
Trustee Kate Parker and Abboud presented a draft resolution for discussion that would among other things reaffirm the board’s commitment against bigotry in all forms and their dedication to moving forward with anti-racism plans that will be presented to the board in spring 2019.
Trustee Veronica Gallardo expressed concern in overstepping their role as a board. “My hope is that we would help our college community and our external community lead peaceful and quiet lives. That we are not meddling and regulating every aspect of their processes,” said Gallardo who made the recommendation the resolution not go forward. “I would ask that this board respect the voice of the teachers and the community and the parents who want to lead a quiet and peaceful life.”
Igbechi responded to Gallardo’s comments with a quotation from Martin Luther King Jr., “In the end, will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
The resolution will return to the board at a later date.
Editor’s Note: The story was edited March 7 to clarify that the noose incident did not occur in Santa Barbara.