Black and female in higher education: Professors stand alone against hate crimes

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.