by Wanda Sabir

When I got an email from law professor Angela Bell, Southern University Law School, Baton Rouge, La., about a recent assault on a Black female sociology instructor at Coastal Carolina Community College in Jacksonville, North Carolina, Professor Kimberly C. Williams, whose student brought a noose to her class, I thought her case was an isolated event. Little did I know that assault on Black women professors is cause for alarm, given the fact that two instances happened in the same month in the same year.

Professor Kimberly C. Williams
Professor Kimberly C. Williams

In addition to this harassment, Williams has had no support from her administration, which finds her at fault. July 10, 2014, the student was found guilty of “ethnic intimidation and communicating a threat” in state court regarding the May 10, 2014, incident. To date, any faculty who show support for her might lose their jobs, so mum is the word on campus as this non-union state further intimidates Williams, a Chicago native and Stanford grad, who is an expert on race theory.

We laughed about Rate My Professor, which is the coward’s litmus, given the fact that everyone complains anonymously, as we swapped war stories. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, I have more than a few war stories as well: Since tenure, a white male teacher threw an item at me; I have received threatening mail in my faculty mail box. Many students participate in a growing sense of entitlement which makes them believe that they will earn As for just showing up in class without producing any work.

Williams states, “The student was quoted as saying that Blacks were subhuman, responsible for being the lion’s share of welfare users/abusers, deservedly occupied the most seats in prisons, and that we should let them destroy themselves.”

Her institution, Coastal Carolina Community College, has “always engaged in respectability politics,” Williams continues. “If I were nicer to the students, then I wouldn’t have them hating me … I’ve been called sassy and elitist by our VP of instruction, who once asked me to remove my alma mater from my syllabus, because it made the white students uncomfortable and looked like I was ‘lording’ my education over them. … I met with the college president and the VP of operations last week, and was told that I was in fact a ‘Black racist’ and that they didn’t think the student who brought the noose was.”

“I was told to butt out of trying to address issues of diversity on our campus, because it’s diverse enough – in spite of the fact, that although our student body mirrors the population of the city of Jacksonville in diversity, our faculty and administration do not: The administration is 100 percent white as are all the division chairs and 88 percent of the full time faculty!

“I was told to butt out of trying to address issues of diversity on our campus, because it’s diverse enough – in spite of the fact, that although our student body mirrors the population of the city of Jacksonville in diversity, our faculty and administration do not.”

“I was yelled at by the president and had my job threatened as well. He said that if white guys continued to complain about my course, even though 96 percent of my student evaluations are positive, that he would not renew my contract. He said that since North Carolina is a hire-at-will state, there’s no way I could sue him or take any legal action against him, and that I could control the reactions of white males if I would just treat them nicer.”

To make matters worse, the college administration turned over her complete personnel file to the “nooseboy’s attorney” which included her family’s social security numbers, beneficiaries of her life insurance policies, plus all the health insurance riders she carries.”

Professor of English and critical race theory Dr. Ersula Ore
Professor of English and critical race theory Dr. Ersula Ore

In our first of a few conversations, Professor Williams told me about the case of two other Black professors who were reprimanded by their institutions on the behest of white men – in one case students, in another, campus police.

Two cases

Dr. Ersula Ore, Arizona State University tenured English professor who was body slammed by campus police May 21, 2014, for jaywalking. Here is a video of the altercation and assault by police in Tempe, Arizona State University. In the video, we see the professor thrown to the ground where her dress came up exposing her underwear. She is then hauled to her feet with her dress still up. The police knew who she was by then, and while she is not the only one jaywalking, she is the only person of color arrested.

Despite the video and several witnesses, the professor was charged with resisting arrest and assaulting an officer. Late July 2014, the charges still stand. A statement released by ASU officials stated that “the officer involved did not violate protocol and no evidence was found of racial motivation by the ASU Police Department officers involved.”

Professor of English and African diaspora studies Shannon Gibney
Professor of English and African diaspora studies Shannon Gibney

In another case, Dr. Shannon Gibney, a faculty member at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, is reprimanded by her institution after three white male students were offended by her class content: structural racism. One student stops her lecture and confronts her about why she is blaming white men for America’s social ills.

When she responds to the first man’s comment, two more students stand up. The scene sounds like one for campus police intervention. That she might have felt unsafe is never addressed.

The professor says she keeps her cool and advises the men to take the matter to administration, which they do, and they are acquitted, but their teacher is found guilty of discrimination, prejudice and racism. Mind you, she teaches English and African diaspora studies.

In another incident, Dr. Gibney was also blamed when the editor of the college paper hung a noose in the office; and the professor, acting in an advisory role, suggested that Black students might find such offensive. In this incident as well, she was found at fault.

Conclusions

It seems like an open season on Black women in higher education. In each case, the professors were blamed by the institution and disciplined. In a consumer based economy where education is another commodity, the consumer, in this case students, is always right.

Teachers who are liked are those who validate the pervading culture. Heaven forbid anyone introduce a counter narrative or note who is not in the room, whose voices are omitted or intentionally ignored. This is what Professor Gibney stated when she mentioned to the all-white male college newsroom staff that their ratings would not rise as long as the staff did not reflect the academy population.

Professor Williams says: “I’m so tired now and feel completely beat down and berated. I have fought the good fight for nine years at Coastal, doing everything I can to raise awareness and create lasting change. I realize I have an obligation to continue to fight for justice and equity, but I need support. My health has suffered in these nine years and my spirit is broken. What can I do? How can I best utilize these incidents to create lasting change?”

The update is Professor Williams has decided to continue to do battle, so go to her site and send her money for legal fees, which are steep: www.gofundme.com/Fight-the-Hate-in-NC.  She has also found a group of women of color who are fighting back in solidarity and helping each other fight. To hear the interview, visit http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks/2014/07/23/wandas-picks-radio-show-seminole-maroon-societies.

Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at wanda@wandaspicks.com. Visit her website at www.wandaspicks.com throughout the month for updates to Wanda’s Picks, her blog, photos and Wanda’s Picks Radio. Her shows are streamed live Wednesdays at 7 a.m. and Fridays at 8 a.m., can be heard by phone at 347-237-4610 and are archived at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks.

13 COMMENTS

  1. I was a student at this college for years, enjoyed the classes as well as my instructors, and I assuredly consider the experience to be positive. I never had the opportunity to have this instructor, but as a student I was able to draw a few working hypotheses simply from walking down the hall.
    All students talk about instructors, it's part of being in college, and naturally some instructors are brought up more than others. Usually that was because of an overwhelmingly positive or, likewise, negative experience. This is one of those instructors that was brought up during conversation in a more unfavorable light. Again, I did not have her as an instructor so I would consider my initial opinion to be quite nonexistent. After hearing a few questionable stories I became curious, so I started to pay attention.
    I had many classes in the same building that her office was located. One thing, by itself, I might never have thought much of was that I had walked by this instructors office many times, I had always said hello, but my greeting was never reciprocated. It's easy to think she might not have heard me or I her, but in hindsight, that wasn't the case because she had seen me every time. The times I have seen her engaged with students, although (forgive my political incorrectness) those students have, save once or twice, every single time been an ethnicity other than Caucasian. The few times the student was Caucasian, they were what polite society calls "colorfully flamboyant." These are just observations.
    Many instructors post thought provoking or interesting articles on or beside their door. I noticed that she had her entire door covered, but before posting these articles she had wrapped her entire door in brown paper. The articles she had posted were always very controversial topics, and written or entitled in such a way that an opinion was made, rather than reporting the facts. I remember seeing a huge sign entitled something to the effect of "Justice for Travon," which was posted after the court system had long since reached a verdict. The inside of her office also seems to be wall to wall agenda. In the years I was a student there I walked by her office countless times and all I remember seeing were topics on race, the majority of them being white on black crime. Never once did I see the opposite posted. Please believe by the time I had no more classes in that building, I was actually actively paying attention. Again, these are just observations.
    I understand she is a sociology teacher, I understand she is supposed to be thought provoking. I do not condone threats being made, but after what I have seen I honestly think she incites it. I'm not sure how that is a healthy or helpful philosophy. The world has plenty of extreme left, right, instigators, and public inciters. Personally I think this instructor to be a rabble-rouser.

    • You cannot "incite" a student to bring a noose to a campus. Students don't have to like what they learn, they only have to learn it… Maybe some of those "colorfully flamboyant" white students you saw in her office, understood that. Maybe they were not as closed-minded as you are. Maybe the students of color felt they finally had a faculty member who could represent a diverse viewpoint. Maybe that's the point of college. Seems like you left long before you learned anything, and while I might recommend you go back, I seriously hope you don't, for her sake. You seem like exactly the kind of student who would bring a noose to school.

  2. I am the professor in question and I'm less than amused at the assumption that I am an unnecessary rabble rouser. Nothing could be further from the truth; however, after being victimized by the noose and a series of other racist incidents, I can assure you that I will no longer tolerate being threatened and bullied by people like the original poster of this thread.

    That the OP/"student" above (who as you notice, made an anonymous post, so technically it could be anyone) claimed to have seen students in my office continually is a testament to my personal commitment to my students and my institution. The manner in which my door is decorated is none of your concern. I am allowed the same freedom of speech which you have employed on this thread, yet, unlike you, my name is attached to my thoughts. Much, but not all, of what I post and study is related to race or gender. That should come as no surprise, since those are the subjects I am hired to teach, and in which I have earned degrees. That students feel comfortable enough to come to my office and talk to me on a wide range of topics, is also a testament to my commitment.

    As the OP noted, there are myriad white students in my office, students of color, and "flamboyant" students (I assume this is referring to the students of the LGBT club, of which I am a faculty advisor???) All are welcome, who would come. Sounds like you were waiting for a personal invitation? Such privileged, entitled behavior is probably the reason you didn't catch anyone's eye, I imagine???? But it's slanderous to suggest, anonymously of course, that you were purposely ignored! Perhaps your prejudice against the "flamboyant" students or the Black students prevented you from approaching me… I think we can see who has the rabble rousing problem here.

    A college or any institution of higher learning is a place (not the sole place, however) for you to explore new ideas, not to simply have your preconceived notions affirmed. The goal is for you to come out of it a better, more productive citizen — someone who has something to offer other than anonymous critique using flimsy evidence and racist, homophobic languaging … all anonymously, of course, lending very little credence to your critique.

    I love teaching, I love studying stratification of all sorts (social class, race, and sex/gender), I am fully engaged with my students through clubs/advocacy, and I am equally committed to diversity through my personal and professional organizations and clubs. Why anyone would expect anything less for students in a college, is beyond me. But thanks for demonstrating exactly how it is that certain students think it's a good idea to threaten a woman of color in academia with a noose because they consider her "a rabble-rouser."

    Good day to you.

  3. To make matters worse, the college administration turned over her complete personnel file to the “nooseboy’s attorney” which included her family’s social security numbers, beneficiaries of her life insurance policies, plus all the health insurance riders she carries.”

  4. Hello. Thank you for raising such an important topic.
    If you recall the story, women are often infringed entirely. They were not allowed to study, let alone work where they wanted. For example, for a long time the profession of a doctor was considered exclusively male. Like many others.
    I believe that to infringe a person on the basis of gender, skin color, nationality, etc. – unthinkable!
    I work as a consultant in college. And sometimes I help write different 500 word essay. And to my happiness, I did not encounter the fact that the girl-student gnobili because she was "not that". Probably I was lucky.
    But I know that there are such cases. And here, as it seems to me, the education of the younger generation and the behavior of others play a big role …

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