SBCC racism controversy erupts, chaotic Trustees pledge meeting

Jun Starkey, News Editor

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The contention surrounding racism and the Pledge of Allegiance reached an explosive peak Thursday when a community member openly and unabashedly used a racial slur during the public comment portion of the Board of Trustees meeting.

The meeting was anticipated by many in the community due to the national coverage given to the last Jan. 24 meeting when previous English Instructor Celeste Barber was cut off by an audience member while attempting to recite the pledge. Due to the large crowd size, the meeting was moved to the Wake Campus Auditorium rather than the usual location on main campus.

Over 100 people at the meeting were in favor of the pledge and had come to plead with the board to keep it, however a small group of less than a dozen City College staff and faculty waited in the back of the room to speak on the ongoing issue of racism on campus.

Some 60 commenters, mostly from the surrounding community but not the college itself, came to speak with similar messages around patriotism, what the pledge means to them personally and why they feel strongly it should be recited at board meetings.

All remained relatively calm until community member Gary Vandeman took the podium about two hours in to address the recent controversy on campus surrounding the n-word.

“Apparently it’s only okay to say the word [n-word] if my skin is darker,” he said, saying the slur in its entirety as the audience began to rumble, with many of them applauding loudly after he finished speaking.

Trustee Jonathan Abboud spoke out immediately, but his voice was drowned out by the applause the audience gave Vandeman.

“I’m sorry, that’s very inappropriate,” Abboud said.

He was cut off by Trustee President Robert Miller’s call for the next speaker, but City College EOPS Student Program Advisor Chelsea Lancaster immediately called out the slur from the back of the auditorium.

“So someone says the n-word during the meeting and y’all aren’t going to say anything?” she said, shouting.

Soon after, former Student Trustee Krystle Farmer also began shouting from the back and said the pledge was never an issue that students were concerned about.

“We have real racism to deal with on campus,” she said. She motioned to the audience, telling them that they do not represent Santa Barbara or City College.

Farmer was gavelled by President Miller several times, and he said she was out of order as multiple members of the audience began shouting at her to “shut up” and “get out.”

Abboud came to Farmer’s defense.

“The fact that Krystle was gavelled but not [Vandeman] is very offensive,” he said.

After a recess was called, Farmer spoke to The Channels about the board’s lack of action regarding racism on campus.

“They have yet to put any of our items on the agenda,” Farmer said. “And yet three white women come to talk about the flag, and it becomes one. How can they not see the racism?”

Farmer was the student trustee until October 2018, when she resigned due to being “discriminated against, harassed, belittled, problematized, and disrespected time and time again,” as stated in her resignation email.

The animosity between the faculty of City College and members of the audience grew as each speaker took the stand. The majority non-City College faculty audience members booed them and called them disrespectful, rude or told them to leave the room.

Farmer later took the podium during comment after another woman yielded her time. Despite the board telling her it was against their policy to yield time, she continued to shout over both the audience and President Miller.

“Do any of you even know how long ago you went to SBCC?” she asked, directly addressing members of the audience laughing and heckling at her.

“Do any of you know the hardships that students face today?”

Farmer was gavelled several times by President Miller when community member Denice Spangler Adams, one of the three women to speak at the previous meeting about the pledge, screamed at the board to call for a Citizen’s Arrest of Farmer.

Paige Miller, a part-time biology instructor at City College, immediately followed Farmer and spoke about the amount of attention that board has been giving the pledge, compared the ongoing racism on campus.

“Nothing has been done, and now we have a room full of people talking for two hours about an issue that doesn’t even really exist,” she said.

“I don’t care about your plans for the future, what are you going to do today?”

Miller went on to speak over her time limit, yelling at the board for “allowing people to think that students were the problem at that meeting,” referring to the Jan. 24 meeting. She was gavelled by President Miller and told she was out of order but did not stop speaking until asking for an apology from the board. Miller asked her to leave the podium or else he would have her removed from the room.

As the motion for the pledge to be instated passed unanimously, a few small claps were heard from the now significantly smaller audience. Many had left when things became heated, while others left directly after making a comment.

As discussion for the motion began, Student Trustee Kenny Igbechi leaned into the microphone and looked directly into the audience before speaking.

“None of the students were involved in the removal of the Pledge of Allegiance,” he said. “Our students are not un-American. We are allowed to have free speech. We are allowed to speak freely.”

Trustee Abboud agreed.

“The board silencing this black woman once again showed me that white supremacy is alive and well in Santa Barbara,” Abboud said.

He reiterated the sentiment that Igbechi made about the pledge not being an issue of the students, acknowledging that a majority of speakers talking about the pledge are not students.

Trustees Veronica Gallardo and Marsha Croninger disagreed with Abboud and said the pledge is an issue they feel is of the utmost importance and worth the board’s time.

Although the pledge issue was resolved, the ongoing discussion around racism will likely carry on to the next meeting.

Editor’s Note: Vaudemau was changed to Vandeman on Feb. 21 at 10 a.m. 

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