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At Odds Over a Threat

Faculty members at Diablo Valley College want the president to publicly denounce a threat to the physical safety of a colleague. She said no.

August 28, 2018
 
Albert Ponce

In October Albert Ponce, a political science professor at Diablo Valley College, received harassment and threats to his safety after giving a lecture on race and politics during which he called the United States “a white supremacist, patriarchal, heteronormative, capitalist system.” NPR reported on his experience and the cycle of cyberharassment triggered by articles in conservative media.

Dealing with harassment and threats is not new, and scholars who write or speak critically of white people appear to be particular targets​. But colleges are split on how best to respond to them. Last week, after someone threatened to beat up Ponce, faculty members in the English and social science division advocated for a strong public denunciation of the threat. Shortly after it was discovered, the divisions passed a resolution calling on Susan Lamb, the president of Diablo Valley, in California, to publicly denounce any such threat to faculty, staff or students. Scott MacDougall, the social science area convener, emailed the following resolution to the president on Friday.

“Whereas this morning a DVC faculty member had his life threatened (once again) on campus, be it resolved that the Social Science and English Divisions demand that Diablo Valley College issue an immediate public denunciation of this act and provides an adequate response now and in the future to any threats -- including but not limited to death, or any other physical harm to other forms of intimidation and harassment -- to DVC faculty, staff, or students and/or their extended families.”

In an email sent to the social science and English faculty Monday, Lamb said that she and Diablo Valley police services were working to address the threats, but that she would not publicly denounce them.

“It is my belief and the belief of police services that public denunciations, especially in our current political environment, tend to create more targeting and negativity,” she wrote in the email. “Thus, I cannot in good conscious [sic] do something that could escalate the situation as requested in the resolution.”

A faculty member, who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, said that Lamb's email was a "non-response."

“This feels like a non-response to threats of violence, which is troubling for many reasons. Do we now live in a society where leadership in public institutions are incapable of denouncing threats of violence publicly? What message does that send to the perpetrators?” they said. “For all of President Lamb’s good intentions and vocal commitment to educational values shared among faculty members, I'm not entirely confident in her reasoning for refusing to publicly denounce these threats.”

MacDougall wasn't dissatisfied with Lamb's response, but he said he was looking for an indication that the college was doing "everything that can be done" to address the threats. 

"I would be reluctant to criticize [Lamb's response], because I don’t know what she knows, and I can understand her logic," he said. "What’s happening is completely unacceptable, and I’m just looking for someone to do something productive to protect Albert and his family."

Lamb stressed to Inside Higher Ed that the threat Ponce received Friday was not a death threat, and that the safety of her employees was her top priority.

"A public denunciation isn’t going to make my faculty safer," she said. "And that’s my most important thing."

Though it wasn't an explicit death threat, MacDougall stressed that it was serious. 

"'We’re coming for you, we’re coming for your wife, we’re coming for your daughter.' And what, they’re coming to deliver a bouquet of balloons? I don’t think so," MacDougall said. 

Lamb encouraged anyone at Diablo Valley who receives a threat or anything that makes them uncomfortable to report it to police services.

Today the Academic Senate at Diablo Valley will vote on a resolution promoting academic freedom and denouncing any attempts by external groups to limit it.

Ponce did not respond to a request for comment. 

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