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Professor publicly slurs student as ‘shitty’ for questioning alternative gender identities

‘Fuck you, Roberto Fonseca’

Some professors tightly control the wording and scope of their Facebook posts.

Others drop a bomb and enjoy watching shrapnel fly across the internet.

A white human sexuality professor at Chico State University in California wrote two posts throwing mud at a student of color for writing a column in the student newspaper, and The Orion itself for publishing “shitty, stupid ‘opinion’ pieces all year” (curious use of scare quotes).

Student Roberto Fonseca’s column questions “myths” peddled by the campus Gender and Sexuality Equity Center: that 1 in 5 college women will be raped (indeed a dubious stat), that there are genders besides male and female (Fonseca cites a dissenting psychiatric study in The New Atlantis that was also submitted as evidence in the Supreme Court’s transgender-bathroom case), and that “systemic racism” exists.

Fonseca’s parents are Nicaraguan immigrants. He told Heat Street he supported Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton and was a registered Democrat, but that he wanted to publicly criticize the “bad ideas that come out of GSEC.”

Lindsay Briggs in the Department of Health & Community Services blew her top the same day, asking rhetorically “What in the everloving fuck The Orion? Fuck you, Roberto Fonseca. This is garbage. … GAHHHHH. SO ENRAGED.”

Rather than encourage her followers to write letters to the editor, Briggs told them to personally harass the editor-in-chief with calls and emails.

In a longer post a week later, Briggs (who also identifies as “Briggsy Boo”) reiterated her view that both the Orion and Fonseca are “shitty” and explained her perspective as a member of the Gender and Sexuality Equity Center’s advisory board.

She called the paper’s faculty adviser, editor-in-chief and journalism department chair to express her “RIGHTEOUS ANGER,” and learned Fonseca was being promoted to opinion editor.

Briggs wrote that it was unfair the Orion has its own housing, department and faculty adviser, while the center has fewer resources: “They are a ‘student run’ paper yes, but the system that supports them is powerful and robust.”

She said she was explicitly setting these Facebook posts as public because they were “particularly powerful” and she wanted everyone to be able to share them.

When Briggs got called into President Gayle Hutchinson‘s office for her original post, she brought her union rep and department chair and reiterated that her views against Fonseca and his arguments were “intentional” and she wouldn’t apologize:

You want free speech? Come at me, y’all. I’m louder, meaner, sassier, and less afraid than most people. I don’t back down. MLK said the riot is the language of the unheard. Well, a sassy, foul mouthed, loud professor with a Facebook presence can also be utilized as the language of the unheard. Everything I say or do is intentional. Don’t get it twisted. I don’t react mindlessly out of anger. Everything I do is done for a purpose.

You wanna talk smack about me? Go right on ahead. I don’t give a shit what you say about me or if you like me or if you agree with my methods. I wasn’t put on this earth to be liked or behave pleasingly to you. I’m here to make the world a better place for the marginalized.

The administration is apparently supportive of Briggs calling a student crude names for sharing his opinion. Asked in one of her posts if anyone had organized a petition to give the administration in support of Briggs, she replied May 18:

No need to send anything to the University President. I’m not in trouble. She’s not mad at me. We just had a friendly chat.

Briggs’ words weren’t the only repercussions for the paper. The local Chico Sol reported that about 600 copies of the Orion with Fonseca’s column were thrown away the day it was distributed on campus, its newsroom office door was vandalized with “Rape Apologist News,” and Fonseca received “two social media messages threatening violence.”

Journalism adviser Mark Plenke said he wouldn’t report the theft to police because it would “inflame things.”

Other parts of the campus community are trying to force the Orion to dump Fonseca, according to the Sol. Briggs has refused to do interviews while she’s on staff and the Student Health Center has taken to hiding stacks of the Orion “behind the counter,” only available upon request, because it can’t refuse to be a distribution point under state law.

The author of the article, a former Chico State journalism instructor who now runs Sol, is partly supported through New America Media’s “Tracking Hate” fellowship.

The GSEC itself wrote a letter to the editor of the Orion, refusing to respond to Fonseca’s argument with statistical evidence while calling his article “shameful … false, disingenuous and malicious”:

Fonseca’s words have incited pain upon many people, both on and off campus, and he and “The Orion” must take responsibility for the ramifications.

It asks the journalism department to require would-be Orion staff to first take a public affairs reporting class:

Students charged with the responsibility of reporting on their campus community should be expected to undergo adequate training in reporting ethically and fairly. …

Words, language, and stories like Fonseca’s have the capacity to incite violence, prevent survivors from reporting their sexual assaults, and create an unwelcoming environment—the opposite of the Chico State community we know and love.

The newspaper editorial board responded with a defense of Fonseca’s “freedom to express opposing views” and denouncement of those who called for his firing or silencing:

People do have the right to express their opinions because without having unpopular opinions that can be judged by the public, there would only be a monetized group of collective thinking. Having the public determine the views that they accept and refute is what constitutes a “marketplace of ideas.” …

In no section of the article was there a call to action to attack GSEC or its members. Disagreeing with certain statements or beliefs that an organization holds is not inciting violence or diminishing an organization’s efforts, it is pointing out specific ideas that a person might not believe in.

It cited Frederick Douglass’s famous quote that suppressing speech is a “double wrong”:

Universities are where ideas are debated and identities are formed. College is not and never should be a “safe space” where students are sheltered from opinions different from their own.

Read Briggs’ posts, coverage by Heat Street and Sol, and Fonseca’s column, GSEC’s response and the Orion editorial.

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