Off-Campus Bigotry

Golden West College says a professor is on leave after she was recorded off-campus telling an Asian-American family to "go back to your home country."

March 7, 2018
Tarin F. Olson
(Facebook/Tony Kao)

A professor of career counseling at Golden West College is on leave for the next two weeks after she was recorded telling an Asian-American man and his family to go back to their “home country.”

The college declined to say whether the professor, Tarin F. Olson, was suspended or took voluntary leave, saying it was a “personnel matter.”

Letitia Clark, a spokesperson for the diverse community college in Southern California, said a surface review of Olson’s 25-year career at Golden West does not suggest that she ever shared racist or anti-immigrant views in the classroom or with the students she counseled. But given that the case has attracted widespread attention and concern from students, among others, Clark said, “it’s important that the review continue.”

Olson could not immediately be reached for comment. But she has publicly offered to share her thoughts on the “displacement of European-Americans.”

Tony Kao, a Long Beach, Calif., resident, late last week shared on Facebook a video of part of the incident, which has since been viewed over 500,000 times on that platform alone. Kao said that he, his wife and his young daughter were out walking in their neighborhood when a woman told them go back to their country.

Kao’s wife began recording the incident, at which point the woman -- later identified as Olson -- turned and walked away quickly, saying, “You’re disgusting.” As she fled, Kao asked Olson to “tell everybody why you told us to go back to our country.” Olson responded, “You need to go back to your home country.”

Source: Facebook

Kao expressed disbelief, telling Olson that and he and his family members were born and raised in the U.S. Olson said, “I never voted for you,” before the video cut out.

Golden West initially responded to the incident with a statement saying that it does “not condone or support” Olson’s comments. The college “believes in an inclusive and welcoming environment for all students,” it said.

Olson has declined to explain her comments to local media, telling CBS2 News off-camera that “my perspective will be twisted if discussing the skewed video, which cut out part of the incident.”

She reportedly said that her students know she is not a racist. However, she added, “If you would like to have a full normal interview about the displacement of European-Americans then I gladly am available to enlighten the public.”

It appears she hasn't made good on that offer, thus far.

Clark, a spokesperson for the entire Coast Community College District, said administrators reviewing the case were operating in somewhat “uncharted territory,” given that Olson made her comments off-campus, not in the classroom. That makes for some policy “ambiguity,” she said.

The district dealt with another recording controversy in 2016, when a student at Orange Coast College secretly recorded Olga Perez Stable Cox, a professor of psychology, telling her class that President Trump’s election was an “act of terrorism.” Cox received death threats and temporarily left the state; she was later voted full-time colleague of the year by a joint faculty-administrative committee. Orange Coast first said it would suspend the student who recorded Cox for violating a related college policy. It later backtracked.

The American Association of University Professors says professors should only be removed from the classroom during a conduct review if they pose an immediate threat to students or others on campus. The main principle of the AAUP's statement on extramural speech is that "a faculty member’s expression of opinion as a citizen cannot constitute grounds for dismissal unless it clearly demonstrates the faculty member’s unfitness to serve."

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Colleen Flaherty

Colleen Flaherty, Reporter, covers faculty issues for Inside Higher Ed. Prior to joining the publication in 2012, Colleen was military editor at the Killeen Daily Herald, outside Fort Hood, Texas. Before that, she covered government and land use issues for the Greenwich Time and Hersam Acorn Newspapers in her home state of Connecticut. After graduating from McGill University in Montreal in 2005 with a degree in English literature, Colleen taught English and English as a second language in public schools in the Bronx, N.Y. She earned her M.S.Ed. from City University of New York Lehman College in 2008 as part of the New York City Teaching Fellows program. 

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