Correction: A previous version of this story said five African-Americans sent the letter. Only three of the employees are African-American. The Sun apologizes for this error.
A group of five employees have charged Southwestern College with institutional racism and systematic discrimination in a letter to the NAACP, Assemblymember Dr. Shirley Weber and campus African-American leaders.
Custodians Roderick Curry, Thaao Streeter, Eric Matos, Mark Gutierrez and PC Systems Technician Johnny Blankenship signed a letter addressed to Weber and seven other people and organizations spelling out what they describe as discriminatory treatment on campus. Complaints in the letter include placement of rats and human feces in the lockers of African-American custodians, monkey calls, racial slurs, racial profiling and defaced property.
“A number of us who are African-American who are employees (or perceived to be African heritage) of the Southwestern Community College District are constantly subjected to institutionalized racism, differential treatment, harassment and a hostile work environment on a daily basis while in performance of our jobs,” the letter said.
Blankenship said the complainants have been advised by Weber and legal counsel not to speak to the news media until they receive a response from the college. As of deadline, the college has not responded.
Signers of the letter wrote that they have met with their supervisors, gone to development trainings, spoken with college human resources administrators and met with the college president. They have received right to sue letters from the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), the letter says.
“Moreover, our supervisors have told us to be thankful we have jobs and we will not have one if we keep complaining,” reads the letter.
Among their examples are racial slurs, monkey sounds, defacing of private property and racial intimidation.
“One of us even had his work locker broken into and feces was placed in it and his picture of President Obama was defaced with the word ‘nigger’ written across his forehead,” the letter said.
In the letter the employees allege that campus staff have unfairly stereotyped them based on their race.
“On several occasions, some of us have even had the College Police called (on) us to investigate us while we were performing our jobs on campus because campus staff told them we looked like a ‘thieves, or homeless or were unknown Black people who had keys to campus offices and walkie-talkies,’” the letter said.
Custodian Luis Sandoval said that the complaints of monkey noises being made were consistent with what he has experienced while working for the college.
“Everybody gets it, I get it, too,” Sandoval said. “That’s why I don’t get on the radio as much unless I really need to talk to my supervisor or the lead custodian. I’ll get on the radio and someone will play monkeys or farting.”
Sandoval said that he noticed the monkey sounds got worse when Curry and Streeter were there. He said that it would be easy to identify who makes the monkey sounds if they had newer walkie-talkies that displayed who was in the call. He also said he previously heard Curry and Matos had dead rats put in their lockers.
“When they get on the radio and start playing something, it’s not right,” he said. “It’s not right for anybody because they’re doing their job.”
Dr. Donna Arnold, dean of the School of Arts and Communication, was a recipient of the letter, but said she does not know how the college will react.
“I’m not sure the direction the school is going and they probably won’t even involve me in that,” she said. “I was simply copied on the letter because with so few African-American’s in positions of authority, I get a lot of stuff. A lot of people come to me.”
Arnold said that this is not be the first time that the NAACP has been involved on the campus for complaints of racial discrimination.
“I can’t speak to their issue and how long it’s been going on,” she said. “I can speak to the fact that the college has had some challenges in previous years. I don’t know how long ago it was, but the NAACP was on campus with some issues that are very similar to what the custodians are facing right now.”
NAACP’s previous association with the school was in May 2003, after representatives of the organization, SWC faculty members and classified employees read a list of complaints to the governing board which included charges of mistreatment and discriminatory practices. Arnold was hired that same year, months after the 2003 allegations, as SWC’s first African-American dean. Governing board members and SWC employees said they were pleased with the progress after the NAACP’s 2003 involvement.
Governing Board Trustee Humberto Peraza also said he is aware of the allegations, but because it is a personnel issue, he is not able to disclose what actions the school has taken. Speaking in general, Peraza said racism at Southwestern College will not be tolerated.
“There should be zero tolerance in general for any sort of racism on our campus,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to what particular minority group it is. Racism is disgusting and shouldn’t be accepted on any level.”
Arnold said she is shocked that racial allegations are surfacing on campus again.
“I’m really surprised that here we are in the 21st century and these kinds of things are still happening,” she said. “I’m really hurt and surprised that it’s repeated on the Southwestern College campus. That’s what’s disconcerting to me.”
Southwestern College President Dr. Melinda Nish said that she is aware of the situation, but cannot speak on what the college will do or when it will respond because it is a personnel issue.
Scans of the letter are available below: