Student files complaint against CSUB professor


YouTube screenshot of “Teaching While Black (TWB)”

To view communications professor Elizabeth Jackson’s video “Teaching While Black (TWB)” click here


By Esteban Ramirez

Managing Editor


A CSU Bakersfield student has filed a complaint against a faculty member for retaliation.

In September, communications professor Elizabeth Jackson posted the video “Teaching While Black (TWB)” on YouTube in which she discussed in a spoken-word-poetic-rap format what it is like teaching while black and talked about institutional racism and individual incidents when students filed complaints against her.

Now, one of those students is speaking publicly about the video and what Jackson said about him.

“I was disappointed that someone who bears a Ph.D. would go to this extreme level to make a point, even though her point still wasn’t made because everything was fabricated or falsely applied,” said senior education major Shad Williams, 25.

Williams said he was sent a link to the video by a fellow student and feels that Jackson violated confidentiality by releasing the video. However, Jackson said the purpose of the video was to serve as an example of her experience as a black female professor for the past 27 years at CSUB.

“I don’t think a poem or that kind of expression violates any confidentiality,” Jackson said. “How can it violate confidentiality? How can a poem violate that unless you are being a literalist? How can a poem be held as evidence? It’s preposterous.”

Williams said he feels instances of retaliation in the video.

“When the investigation wasn’t even closed, she revealed information that was completely confidential,” he said.

Jackson said the confidentiality makes it seem secretive.

“It’s confidential therefore it makes it secretive therefore it makes the process punitive,” she said. “It can be used as a weapon.

“It seems to err on the side of the complainant, and so all you can do as a respondent is merely respond.”

Jackson said she did not identify the student in the video.

“It was someone who was wearing a mask,” she said. “He wasn’t identified, and if he is, it’s because he self-identified.”


How it all started

During spring 2016, Williams filed a CSU Executive Order 1097 complaint of discrimination against Jackson.

Williams said during a History of Film class in spring, Jackson was discussing the lack of black actors in movies.

In her lecture she said if an actor who was not black needed to portray a black character they would do what is called black facing, which is when actors put on makeup to give them African-American features.

Williams said Jackson went to the back of class where he was sitting and told him “with your dark skin, big nose and nappy hair, you are the perfect negro candidate.”

“I was at a loss for words,” Williams said. “I was sickened and distraught.”

Williams said the incident changed how he felt about the class.

“Every time I came in the course, I was not known as Shad Williams in that class. I was known as the student she called out.”

He added Jackson continued to say that if there was a holocaust situation, since she is lighter black and because he is a darker black, she would get life in prison and he would get placed in the gas chamber.

Jackson denied that’s what she said in the lecture.

She said she was doing a lecture on the research done on perceiving stereotypes for people of color by Jennifer Eberhardt, who won the MacArthur award in 2015 for research.

She said she told Williams that he almost fit the criteria in almost every way about the perceived stereotypes but not the broad lips.

“On the other hand I have nappy hair, big lips and big nose,” she said to him. “Then I asked him ‘if I had to pull the trigger or you had to pull the trigger, who gets the gas chamber?’ Did he get the point? No. Did everyone else? Most likely they did.”

She said the research showed that when people were asked to identify prisoners in a lineup, people picked them by the features of big lips, broad nose, curly hair and darker skin tones when compared to other people that looked less African.

She added that she teaches this lecture in all of her classes.

Williams said he then filed the complaint against Jackson, but he wanted to have a meeting with Jackson, an adviser and Title IX Coordinator Claudia Catota first to be fair to her.

However, he said she still didn’t seem to understand the problem, so he filed the 1097 complaint.

In spring 2016, the case then went under investigation by CSUB and Catota.

“Your job is to teach and to just grow the world with knowledge. Your job is not to belittle a student,” Williams said about Jackson.

Jackson said no racial discrimination against her has been substantiated.

She also added that seven other students were interviewed about the complaint.


Video Appears on YouTube

In September, Jackson posted the video on YouTube, which has over 700 views so far.

In the video, Jackson references the incident from class. Then she shows a photo of Williams that she says a staff member from the Student Union took of him and sent to her. In the photo, he is wearing a mask over his face.

She says in the video it is “black face,” but he said he was wearing a monkey mask for a children’s play.

“What she is stating is that black people look like monkeys,” he said. “I don’t feel like brown or any shade of brown looks like a monkey.”

Jackson replied that monkeys don’t look like “black face.”

Williams said he showed the mask to his mother’s transitional kindergarten class.

“I asked them what it was and they said it was a monkey,” he said. “If TKers can get it, why can’t she?”

In the video, she also alleges that Williams’ grade was tampered with, but Williams said he was moved out of her class.  Communications Department Chair Judith Pratt stated in an email that grades can only be changed with a signature by a faculty member.

Williams said he was disappointed when he saw the video and filed a second complaint with Catota’s office. That investigation is still open.

CSUB President Horace Mitchell stated in an email that he is aware of the new complaint.

He also acknowledged Jackson’s freedom of speech to make the video.

Bakersfield California Faculty Association Chapter Faculty Rights Chair Bruce Hartsell wouldn’t comment specifically about Jackson but said he strongly supports First Amendment rights.

Jackson said the video is about more than just her issues with Williams.

She made it to speak to racism, to a certain extent to sexism, and to a lot of the injustices people of color feel in the university system.

“It represents many, not just one person,” she said.

She said she wanted the video to also speak to many faculty members who have been subjected to institutional racism.

“We have been subjected to being gagged, being manipulated, being threatened with our jobs,” she said.

She added she knows at least six people at CSUB that have experienced the same things but she did not want to comment on who they are.

“It has gotten so bad on this campus that… there have been a group of colleagues who have wanted to have meetings, and I offered my house as a meeting place because they were feeling threatened, stalked, all of the things I mentioned,” she said. “At the last minute, the meeting was canceled because I really think a number of persons felt they were going to be targeted, so it was called off.”


Complaint Policy

Catota, who represents the university and is a neutral fact finder, would not comment on this specific complaint but said a 1097 is for students who feel harassed, discriminated or retaliated against.

“If a student wants to file a complaint with the university, they can file the complaint form and then meet with me and we will walk through the complaint process,” she said.

She said as long as the complaint meets the criteria of discrimination based on race, national origin and gender, then it pretty much falls under the complaint form.

Catota added then students have a chance to go to an informal stage for mediation and try to work things out or go into a formal stage, which is an investigation.

She said if there is a finding, it can lead to discipline. The person, who the complaint was filed against, does have the opportunity to appeal it to the Chancellor’s Office. The discipline can vary from different complaints, but the harshest discipline is termination.

Williams said his goal has never been to get her fired.

“That has never been my goal,” he said. “My goal is to never strip someone of their employment, but that’s not my jurisdiction. I feel that if you go to these extremes to do these actions, then you are asking for whatever repercussion you get. I don’t want anyone to lose their job, but there are times where losing your job is justified.”

If a faculty member is issued a complaint, they can request assistance from the Bakersfield CFA but they don’t have to.

Hartsell said they get about two or three requests for assistance from faculty members per year.

Hartsell said CFA’s assistance to a faculty member is comparable to an attorney helping someone that has been accused of a crime.

“We are trying to ensure that the procedures are properly followed and to help to make sure that the accused is treated fairly in the process,” he said.

Williams said he is disappointed in Jackson and saddened by how long CSUB is taking to resolve the issue.

“The only reason I’m saddened is because I just felt the answer is so easy to choose,” he said.

Hartsell said the 1097 process could be discriminatory.

“It’s possible for students to take offense and let’s call it mob mentality for students to kind of year after year say, ‘Hartsell talks about this, he’s a racist.’ I have said to Claudia Catota you have a duty to exercise discretion just like a police officer does in every other level of law enforcement to decide whether this is worth investigation because the investigation itself can have a chilling effect,” he said. “If the allegation — even if entirely true — doesn’t rise to the level of a violation of a student’s rights, then it’s not worth the investigation.”

CSUB officials did not comment where the investigation is at, but it is still ongoing.