‘We 100% disagree with that conclusion’
Students at Virginia Commonwealth University are demanding the termination of a professor for allegedly racist behavior, even though the school conducted a full investigation that concluded the professor had not behaved in a racist manner.
The controversy surrounding Javier Tapia, an instructor in VCU’s art school, has been ongoing since last year. In the fall, Tapia called security on visiting professor Caitlin Cherry, who was eating breakfast in a faculty lounge at the time. Tapia told a security guard he believed that Cherry was a student. Cherry subsequently filed a racial discrimination complaint against Tapia; the school investigated it and determined that Tapia was not guilty of racial discrimination or bias.
Though it cleared him of the racial bias accusation, VCU suspended Tapia anyway, while also forbidding him from talking to any members of the VCU community. Tapia is currently suing the school over that suspension. Students have continued to protest Tapia’s affiliation with the university, demanding, for instance, that his tenure be revoked over the incident involving Cherry.
Now, one of the organizers of the ongoing protests is clarifying what the students seek from the university: Tapia’s “termination” from any role at the school.
“We’re asking for the complete removal/termination of Javier Tapia,” Angelica Credle, a student at the university, told The College Fix via email.
“We feel as though that the level of incompetency and disregard for others is unacceptable, especially as an educator. We do not want him to share space with any VCU students or faculty, especially those belonging to marginalized groups,” she said.
Asked how the student coalition feels about the school’s having determined that Tapia was not guilty of racist behavior, Credle dismissed the school’s findings:
We 100% disagree with that conclusion. What many people fail to understand is that it is obviously technically impossible to prove someone did something because of the color of someone’s skin. It’s about embedded behaviors and implicit as opposed to explicit. It’s about the structures of this country and what principles this country and its institutions are built on.
Credle said that the students are waiting for the university to make a decision about Tapia before they decide what to do next:
We’re currently in contact with the administration as far as getting our demands implemented and receiving information to determine the climate for next semester. Since the administration haven’t been as transparent as we need them to be, it’s hard formulating the appropriate next steps when they’re not giving us the information we’re asking them for to move forward. The administration’s progress and whether Tapia will be terminated a lot will inform a lot of our decisions going forward, however the administration has left us in the dark the majority of the time.
The student coalition was granted a meeting with top university officials last week, including the school’s president Michael Rao. In that meeting, an audio recording of which Credle gave to The Fix, school administrators stressed that they could not discuss the situation involving Tapia. Nevertheless, multiple students at that meeting spoke vociferously against Tapia, particularly the fact that—per the school’s course catalogue—he will be returning to teach next semester.
Tapia “hinders our academic freedom in so many ways,” one activist said, claiming that his “syllabus is outdated” and that he “only teaches from a white western male perspective.”
“He is just not a good educator. The effect that he has on the mental and physical health of the people in this building is not acceptable,” she continued.
Numerous students stressed the need to diversify the VCU faculty. “We need to hire more [people of colored], more LGBTQI, more disabled, more minority faculty in order to reflect what the student population looks like,” one said.
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