Discrimination pervades Riverside Community College

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By Vanessa D. Overbeck & Michael Diggin

By Vanessa D. Overbeck & Michael Diggin

Discrimination, harassment and retaliation may be occurring from the ground level up to the echelons of administration at Riverside Community College.

From students to faculty to administrators complaints are raging at RCC that harassment and retribution are part of the culture of the college.

On the student-faculty level, on April 7 and April 21, RCC instructor Ali Issa verified to Viewpoints editors that he was the unnamed professor in the Office for Civil Rights’ investigation released Feb. 28. Viewpoints had already obtained police reports that put the retaliatory removal of Student 1 during one of Issa’s scheduled classes. The report found Issa unlawfully retaliated against Student 1, who was instructed by a college official to poll Issa’s class regarding his racial discrimination complaints. The report also addressed two other students’ accusations of sexual harassment.

Regarding the Office for Civil Rights’ investigation, Trustee Grace Slocum said the Board of Trustees told Rotella they did not want this harassment to continue. But she said when he didn’t follow through on their request the board did not act.

“Rotella should’ve been sanctioned privately,” Slocum said. “He should’ve been held accountable for his actions. It all ended up on Dr. Rotella’s desk, as he was directing that.”

In response, Rotella denied the validity of Slocum’s statements.

“Her opinion doesn’t make reality,” Rotella said. “It’s just dogs barking.”

Slocum also charged the Board with neglecting its duties.

“The Board should be asking more questions and they’re not,” Slocum said. “They should be demanding different answers.”

In fact, Slocum said the Board is like a wife in an adulterous relationship, where everyone but her knows her husband is cheating. She said the Board only received 10 pages of the 19-page Office for Civil Rights’ report. They only got the section dealing with what the college planned to do to correct its mishandling of discrimination complaints.

“This was not nearly as damning as the report itself,” Slocum said. “The OCR report puts it out there pretty clearly.”

On the faculty-administrator level, life sciences instructor Kathy Brooks said she’d experienced harassment. In a faculty forum dated April 18 related to the Feb. 28 Office for Civil Rights’ report she discussed her encounter.

“Last semester a high level administrator came to my office and told me to ‘stop talking’ about certain district issues or ‘you won’t get things you need or want,'” she said.

Brooks was a joint complainant with the three students in the recent investigation by the Office for Civil Rights. But she said that other faculty members have told her of their fears of retaliation for whistle-blowing.

“A large number of faculty that I’ve talked to are afraid to speak out,” Brooks said. “I do think this is a culture of the college … Our department is not the only department this happened in.”

Brooks advised students who are discriminated against to file jointly with any faculty member who can corroborate their claims.

“If (the students) had filed individually, they might have been more easily ignored,” Brooks said.Brooks also accused administrators of downplaying the magnitude of the problem.

“Rather than protecting the students the administration covered up the situation and the Board of Trustees looked the other way,” Brooks said.

On the administrative level, Slocum said fellow board members retaliated against her for reporting “irregularities” to the state Attorney General.

“The day after I informed the board of what I’d done I was stripped of my committee chairs,” Slocum said.

Prior to her report of “potentially criminal activities” to the Attorney General, Slocum said she chaired the Planning and Development Committee and was second chair on other committees relating to academic affairs.

At the Board of Trustees meeting on May 17, Board President Mark Takano did not directly address Slocum’s removal, saying only, “I acted in the best interest of the college.”

At the Board of Trustees meeting on May 17, Takano said the real problem is an atmosphere of over-excited activism.

“The problem is a vigilante spirit that circumvents the established process,” Takano said.

If a trustee, an elected official, is open to harassment and retaliation, Slocum said, then what hope do students and faculty have that their rights will be protected? Administrators, faculty and students, from the top to the bottom of RCC’s ranks, all seem to be pondering this question.

“The Board’s actions against me show the entire college that this behavior is pervasive,” Slocum said.

“Harassment and retaliation are part of the culture of the college. The problem lies in an environment of hostility and fear.”

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