After latest incident, SBCC must set an example for campus community to be united, instead of divided

The Channels Opinion Pages | EDITORIAL

April 12, 2021

It’s disheartening to be reminded that—even in 2021—there are individuals who still resort to comparing their own cultural or ethnic backgrounds and experiences with another’s, especially when that comparison comes as a judgment made to invalidate another’s pain.

As an institution and a community, we need to set an example for students and this starts at the top. Leadership must live by its own mission of providing an equitable, inclusive and supportive environment.

On March 27, Vice President of City College’s School of Extended Learning Joyce Coleman was placed on administrative leave over racially insensitive comments made during an Equal Employment Opportunity Advisory Committee meeting. This action is a stark reminder of just how deep-rooted the seeds of racism are in our society.

Even a woman of color in a position of power, who has been celebrated for her advocacy of marginalized people, can harbor some prejudice towards another group—in this case diminishing the mistreatment of Japanese Americans during World War II compared to that of African Americans in slavery.

There needs to be a space for discussion about the mistreatment of all subjugated peoples, but these discussions should never veer into a contest of whose experience is worse.

Non-white Americans have suffered at the hands of racially oppressive systems for centuries. Coleman’s remarks were unproductive and offensive to anyone who has endured this pain, including the families affected at our own southern border today.

City College shouldn’t be a place for “cancel culture” and everybody should be able to speak their mind, but it erodes any progress when these opinions start distracting from actual issues.

There’s an irony in the fact these comments were made during a meeting of a committee for addressing employment inequity and following a report about a task force created in support of Asian Americans at City College. Leadership must remember why they met in the first place—to address systemic inequity.

The administration must lead by example and show they can cease arguing among themselves and prioritize students’ needs. We need equity for everybody in the campus community, from first-year students to tenured faculty.

Divisiveness only pushes us further from the ultimate goal of unity and inclusivity.

Administration has shown the ability to listen and make change; the recent decision to reverse the layoffs of three staff shows a strong effort to maintain community at City College.

Monthly campus climate town hall meetings have become a platform to directly voice concerns about discrimination and diversity.

In order to grow as an all-inclusive community we need to think of ourselves as one, working towards a united goal while also respecting the experiences of people from different backgrounds.

At a time when college enrollment is dropping, the last thing we need is a college administrator making negative racial comments, which will only drive away students and discourage participation.

Though there was no recording of the meeting, Coleman’s comments were circulated widely and were deeply hurtful to some people on campus.

Coleman’s position earns her a chance to be an example for women and students of color but it also comes with greater expectations.

There is a recent similar precedent. Vice President of Business Services Lindsay Maas used the unabbreviated version of the n-word while reading from a quote during an equity meeting in November 2018. Consequently, calls for her resignation flooded the school and protesters swarmed a board meeting demanding swift results.

Coleman expressed her own racially charged opinion during an equity meeting, but there’s not been similar public outrage.

Administration must consider the reaction from the campus community if Coleman loses her job when Maas didn’t, and whether Asian Americans and Pacific Islander affinity groups are comfortable with her in a position of power.

To show consistency and equity, we believe Coleman should be forgiven if she shows growth and accountability for her comments and makes an effort against any future indiscretions as Maas did.

It shouldn’t be a race to see who’s suffered the most, rather a quest to help bring everyone together.

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