EDITORIAL: Great, we had an anti-racism convocation — here’s what Sac State needs to do next


Rahul Lal

Graphic made in Canva.

Sacramento State hosted a convocation Sept. 29 in an effort to advance the university’s commitment to anti-racism.

While the convocation was a step in the right direction, we are concerned the university will take no substantive actions to change its environment — an environment where only 56% of students of color reported feeling they strongly matter in classes taught by white professors, and where African American administrators, faculty and staff reported feeling the least welcome on campus

RELATED: Sac State’s Fall 2020 Convocation addresses anti-racism efforts in higher education

Sac State administration has a habit of saying all the things you want to hear, and then doing nothing to back up its words. 

Here are some things Sac State needs to do next in its efforts to become an anti-racist university. 

Take acts of racism seriously

When Sac State professor Tim Ford was seen in a viral video where his wife used a racial slur in May, the university’s first instinct was to avoid public discussion of the video, with President Robert Nelsen even saying at one point they would not address the incident again publicly

Nelsen later apologized for that statement at a virtual town hall event focused on the Ford incident.

“Words matter. The words I used could easily be understood to say that the university and I in particular were going to be silent about what we should never be silent about,” Nelsen said.

Since then — SILENCE.

After watching the video, Nelsen said, “I must reiterate that Sacramento State strives to be inclusive and to foster a culture of caring; we absolutely do not condone this sort of language or behavior.”

What does “we do not condone this sort of language or behavior” mean if Ford continues to teach at Sac State? 

And sure, his wife was the one who said the racial slur in the video. But Ford should have stopped his wife from continuing to shout racial slurs, or even reacted to it, because to the Sac State community watching, it does seem like he condones the use of slurs.

But enough about what Ford didn’t do in the video. Look at what he did do: he flaunted his PhD and job as a professor at Sac State before jumping into a shouting match and finishing off with tossing the contents of his drink at his neighbors’ window.

If we can’t trust Sac State to uphold basic decency from its faculty, who stand as representatives of the university even off school grounds, we can’t trust Sac State to take the serious action needed to be an anti-racist campus.

By not making it clear to the Sac State community whether Ford suffered consequences for his actions, it makes it look like the university’s commitment to fostering an anti-racist campus is just a front.

Students are grown adults, not petulant children, and an explanation in circumstances such as these is critical to building any credibility that these issues are taken seriously. Even if the outcome is unacceptable to students, saying nothing is downright disrespectful and insults the intelligence of anyone upset by the incident. 

Listen to Black students

During the virtual town hall in response to the aforementioned Ford video, then-Sac State BSU president Adwoa Akyianu said she wanted an action-oriented apology, including firing Ford and mandated cultural responsiveness training that students have a hand in creating. Neither of these have been done. 

When Black Sac State theater and dance students came forward to share their experiences of racism within the department in biweekly Zoom meetings, university administration decided they would “respectfully” discontinue participation in the meetings. Nelsen has only attended one meeting of the 32 they have held so far, despite BE FREE requesting he be there. 

RELATED: ‘You were my bullies’: Sac State theatre and dance students confront faculty over systemic racism

Nelsen invited the leaders of BE FREE to participate in separate meetings with the administration but Crawford said she felt that was an attempt to take away their power and that the administration should have continued to engage with the meetings they were already holding.

Crawford said at least 17 students from the BE FREE movement have submitted complaints about incidents of racial microaggressions, sexual misconduct/harrassment and discrimination to the Equal Opportunities Office, with her complaint being 71 pages — 24 pages detailing these incidents, and 47 pages of screenshots of emails and pictures that backed her claim.

Crawford’s complaint did not have formal investigations opened by the EOO because the office determined the complaints were not violations of Executive Order 1096, which prohibits discrimination, harassment, retaliation, sexual misconduct, dating and domestic violence, and stalking, according to the findings by William Bishop, the director of equal opportunity and Title IX officer.

Crawford said investigations were not opened into the other 16 complaints that were also submitted.

Your Black students are telling you something is wrong and you are shutting them out.

Hire more Black, Indigenous, Hispanic, Asian and Pacific Islander faculty

The statistics show that Sac State has an overwhelming white faculty. This needs to change. 

Especially coming from a campus as diverse as Sac State’s, minority students need to see themselves in positions of power in order to feel like their lives beyond higher education aren’t all controlled by the racial majority.

How can you “strive to be inclusive” if your faculty doesn’t even represent the entire campus culture?

Be more transparent

The — at least apparent — lack of discipline for Tim Ford is not the first time in recent memory that transparency has been a major issue for Sac State.

When the coronavirus began to spread in March, Sac State hemmed and hawed on whether to close the campus, with Nelsen even choosing to like a tweet accusing students of just wanting to get out of school rather than even sending a SacSend email letting students know the school was thinking things over.

And while there are admittedly pretty strong reasons why our fees and tuition haven’t budged since going mostly virtual, Sac State isn’t doing a ton to make those reasons common knowledge.

RELATED: EDITORIAL: Give us back our damn money, Sac State

While investigating the BE FREE meetings The State Hornet learned that Lorelei Bayne, the chair of the theatre and dance department, who had been implicated in some of the troubling accusations by a student, was on leave for an undisclosed reason and unavailable for comment.   

The administration often seems to go with the tactic of “if we can’t tell them what they want to hear, we’ll just say nothing and they will forget.” As students, we’re constantly being left in the dark about what the university’s plans are. 

In general, and especially in regards to anti-racism initiatives on campus, going forward it would be nice if our administration treated us as adults and kept us in the loop about campus goings-on. 

With a very diverse campus community, Sac State must commit to demonstrating statistics that show how many complaints are levied and how those complaints were resolved. This can be done anonymously without breaking privacy laws, but in a way that also upholds convocation speaker Shaun Harper’s call for transparency of data.

We might not like every controversial decision made by administration, but we can respect that the decisions are deliberate and made for a reason — or at least, we could, if we were told why literally anything happens.

Yes, Sac State is making progress. The convocation was an important event that elevated Black voices and spoke on anti-racism. The “anti-racism and inclusive campus” plan sounds great on paper. But if the university can’t even address basic instances of racism in its campus community, how can it expect to effectively carry out this plan? 

The bottom line is, Sac State needs to take more concrete action to change an environment where Black students and faculty feel unwelcome.