A high-ranking Santa Barbara Community College administrator, Joyce Coleman, was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation of allegations she made remarks offensive to members of the Asian-American Pacific Islander community and its supporters on campus.

Coleman, who took over as vice president of SBCC’s Extended Learning program in December 2020, finds herself embroiled over comments she reportedly made at meeting of the school’s Equal Opportunity Advisory Committee on March 23 in response to the formation of a new campus affinity group on behalf of Asian-American Pacific Islanders. This group was formed in the wake of the recent mass shooting in Atlanta that claimed the lives of six Asian people and a stark increase in the number of attacks on people of Asian descent.

The complaint alleges Coleman, who is Black, reportedly greeted news of the new group’s formation with the words, “About time,” and then described having visited an internment camp for Japanese and Japanese American people during World War II and wondering why the prisoners there “did not just leave,” given how small the fence was. By contrast, Coleman allegedly noted, Black American slaves formed the Underground Railroad and actively resisted.

Some campus faculty and staff took offense to what they described as “victim blaming,” charging that she inflicted “great harm” by her words and actions.

Coleman said she agreed not to comment until the investigation is concluded.

Coleman grew up in the segregated South, earning degrees in criminology and sociology before embarking on a 28-year career with various community colleges throughout Oregon, California, and Minnesota. When she was selected to the post as vice president of Extended Education — which includes a wide range of adult education programs including GED and ESL — she expressed confidence that SBCC President Utpal Goswami shared her commitment to equity, inclusion, and diversity and that these words — for him and for her — were more than catchy phrases.

SBCC spokesperson Luz Reyes-Martín, who has stepped in as interim VP for the School of Extended Learning, according to the student publication The Channels, issued the following statement to the Independent regarding the incident:

“Upon learning of the reported incident and due to the serious nature of the circumstances, Ms. Coleman was placed on paid administrative leave pending a thorough investigation, by an outside party, into the incident. Interviews for the investigation underway.

“SBCC takes this incident and the reported comments very seriously. Superintendent/President Dr. Goswami promptly reached out directly to impacted members of the campus community and other campus groups. He communicated to the campus that  ‘SBCC aspires to be a welcoming and equitable community’ and that this ‘requires us to hold ourselves to high standards and work towards building a community that supports each other.'”

UPDATE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Coleman took over as vice president of SBCC’s Extended Learning program in February. She took over in December 2020. This story was also updated to include a statement from SBCC spokesperson Luz Reyes-Martín.

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