The first day of fall not only ushered in a change of season at Contra Costa College, it also brought with it an attempt to challenge the boundaries of free speech in public spaces.
Shortly before noon in Campus Center Plaza, a religious fundamentalist equipped with an offensive sign and portable public address system, condemned members of the campus community to hell for being abominations in the eyes of his God.
His sentiment was widely rejected.
In what seemed to be a further disruption to CCC programs, which offer students platforms for free expression, a cherry bomb was ignited in a trash can outside the speech and journalism department labs prompting the evacuation of the Applied Arts Building with smoke and emergency flashing lights.
Following the public disruptions, acting president Mojdeh Mehdizadeh released a statement via email reaffirming the campus’ mission of inclusivity while outlining the Contra Costa Community
College District policy of inclusivity as defined by Student Services procedure 3025 — Freedom of Expression.
A portion of Mehdizadeh’s email reads, “Earlier today, an individual who is not affiliated with our campus took to the plaza to share views that are not reflective of our community’s values.
“Incidents such as these bring into sharp focus the critical, but often challenging importance of balancing a safe, inclusive environment for all students and employees.”
The email also listed on-campus resources where affected students can receive support or counseling.
Despite being less threatening and less significant than the two racist threats directed at African American students at sister college Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill earlier this year,
Mehdizadeh’s response offered outlets for support and praised students and administrators who stood unwavering in the face of outside intolerance.
In contrast, the initial response to the racist graffiti at DVC by its President Susan Lamb only condemned the incident and offered a promise to prosecute the offender to the fullest extent of the law.
Prosecution never came.
In fact, the DVC perpetrator in the first incident escaped prosecution (because he had no criminal record) and because he offered an apology to the school — according to the San Jose Mercury News.
No apology was given the students who were targeted.
Because of the volatile social and political climate currently defining the U.S., it is important that administrators go beyond simply repudiating hate aimed toward students.
It requires empathy, not something voiced through statements — it’s delivered through actions.
Silence has been the defining statement from district administrators about the burgeoning race problem, so campus administrators must do what is best for their own students.
Effective marching orders don’t come from Martinez regarding racial issues.
The difference in the initial statements by Dr. Lamb and Mehdizadeh are undeniable and paint a vivid picture of the different administrative approaches to hate speech at sister colleges fewer than 30 miles apart.