Nearly all local educational institutions and school districts have unanimously passed resolutions condemning police brutality and affirming that black lives matter in recent weeks, but for Santa Barbara City College, the simple, emblematic step toward addressing racism at the college wasn’t as agreeable.
“I’m one of these weird people that thinks all lives matter,” said Trustee Craig Nielsen, who has served on the board since 2012. “Black lives matter, but all lives matter. Before ‘lives matter’ you could put ‘young lives,’ ‘old lives,’ ‘rich lives,’ or ‘poor lives matter.’ All you’re doing is pointing out differentiation, and that in itself is discrimination.”
Nielsen said his biggest issue with the resolution, though, was the emphasis it placed on dismantling barriers to success for black students and other disadvantaged students in the document’s “Be It Further Resolved” paragraph. Instead, he said he would like to see more emphasis on “identifying” the barriers before removing them because it could get the college “into trouble” to admit the barriers are already known.
“I think the tone is kind of off and it opens doors that I don’t like,” he continued. “I don’t want City College to be controversial because we didn’t pass a resolution. … But when you start admitting that you have all these terrible things and problems, then you open the door to bad things happening to you like accusations and other things.”
Nielsen wasn’t the only trustee who voted against the resolution, which passed 5-2. Trustee Veronica Gallardo, who also teaches 1st grade in the Santa Barbara Unified School District, joined in the game of semantics. But for her, the minutia went as small as which words were capitalized in the document.
Gallardo claimed that until this point, she was unaware that the national Black Lives Matter movement was affiliated with demands to defund the police. She said she had Googled the phrase for the first time upon reading the resolution and was shocked to read calls to “defund the police” on its website, so therefore she would not support the entire resolution based on its line that reads “the Board does hereby condemn police brutality and affirms that Black Lives Matter.”
“Serving on a board for college students and certainly being a public school teacher for the last 10 years, I can’t get behind something that is calling to defund the police,” Gallardo said, though the resolution had no connection to the national movement nor any mention of defunding police.
Trustees Jonathan Abboud and Marsha Croninger co-authored the resolution, saying that they did so in such a way that they believed the vote would be unanimous. Abboud and Croninger repeatedly told Gallardo that the document has no connection to the national movement, and the phrase is simply that — a phrase stating that the lives of black people matter.
“I don’t think we’re here to debate ‘defund the police,’” Abboud said. “I have my own very strong feelings on that topic, but in this resolution, we are just affirming three simple words: black lives matter. We’re not endorsing the Black Lives Matter organization’s platform. We’re just saying a simple phrase that 50 to 60 percent of Americans agree with, and it is not controversial.”
Gallardo insisted that because the phrase was capitalized in the document, the intent was to endorse the national organization, despite the document’s authors stating that wasn’t their intent and offering to lowercase the phrase.
“I’m not asking for it to be changed. I respect it as written,” Gallardo said. “But as it stands, that’s what it means, and I can’t get behind that. … I think to put it in capital letters was the original intent.”
The boardmembers resistant to the resolution are the same who served in November 2018, when Vice President of Business Services Lyndsay Maas said the unabbreviated n-word at a gender equity meeting, resulting in multiple protests at board meetings and throwing the college administration into months of chaos.
This year’s resolution addresses some of the issues that exploded from the 2018 incident by committing to reevaluate policies with an “anti-racist and equity lens” by the end of spring 2021 and to finalize policies which improve and better communicate the campus complaints process, including complaints for racial discrimination, by the end of fall 2020.
The Maas controversy was just one of several that erupted at the college in recent years, mostly regarding racism and sexism, that signal the need for action around racial equity. The following January 2019 after Maas’s incident, two dozen students, most of whom were black, surrounded the trustees at a board meeting following Maas’s return from paid administrative leave, demanding she resign or be fired.
In February 2019, an anti-racism resolution was introduced by Trustee Kate Parker. That also passed 5-2 that April, but only after it was watered down to a “campus-climate resolution” that made only one mention of racism. Nielsen and Gallardo were the two opposing votes in that instance, as well.
Multiple coalitions of black students and faculty formed as a result of the ongoing controversies, and backlash continued at each board meeting for the remainder of the semester, though student and community involvement in the board has diminished since the pandemic closures.
Despite Gallardo and Nielsen being against the resolution, the board adopted it and will hold a virtual facilitated colloquium in the fall 2020 semester on dismantling racial inequities and barriers to student success in education. The colloquium will in part be facilitated by black faculty and staff, and the entire community is welcome.
“We need to admit that we really do have racism on campus at SBCC,” Abboud said. “That’s the only way you move forward through problems — admit them and identify them and then solve them. I think this resolution is a great start, but there is a lot more to do and a lot more people to have a voice and be involved.”
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