Teaching while black: white professor calls security on black adjunct

Caitlin Cherry, a African American visiting professor in VCUarts had campus police called on her while eating breakfast two weeks ago. Photo by Michel Maulding

Sarah Elson,
Contributing Writer

Caitlin Cherry, a black VCUarts visiting professor, said a colleague called campus security on her while she was eating breakfast in her assigned classroom more than two weeks ago.

Cherry said Javier Tapia, a white-Hispanic professor, walked into the room and did not respond to her greeting before leaving. Minutes later, a security guard entered the room and asked her if she was a faculty member, and to see her identification.

The event has since prompted outrage among students, and an apology from the arts department. It comes amid a string of incidents — some of which have gone viral on social media — in which white people called the police on black people for ordinary activities like sleeping in their university dorm and holding a barbecue in a public park.

Cherry said she told Shawn Brixey, the school’s dean, what happened. She said Brixey apologized and promised an investigation. VCUarts then turned the investigation over to VCU Equity and Access Services, a university spokesperson confirmed — the investigation is ongoing. Tapia declined comment on the situation.

“Had I not have had my ID … I don’t know what could have happened,” Cherry said. “I feel a lot of different ways about this, particularly as a black woman, because now the situation escalates to the point of people dying.”

Students angered by Tapia’s actions took to Facebook to express their disappointment in the department.

“Caitlin is a talented painter and VCUarts doesn’t deserve her,” wrote recent graduate Amanda Austin. “Regardless, no one should be threatened by someone’s mere existence. This is not surprising to come from VCU despite how much lip service they give to diversity. Ultimately they still privilege their racist tenured faculty even after numerous complaints from students.”

Gilbert Wilkerson commented on Austin’s post, hoping VCU Equity will investigate the situation thoroughly.

“I really hope this is not the conclusion of this incident,” Wilkerson wrote. “[Tapia] needs to be held accountable.”

On Oct. 30, five days after the incidents, VCUarts apologized on its Instagram story and website.

“VCU and the School of the Arts value and celebrate diversity in all of its forms; support thoughtful, informed and inclusive action; and are committed to empowering community values in which individuals of different perspectives, life experiences, cultural backgrounds, and social identities feel safe and are welcomed.”

The department also sent out a department-wide email to students and faculty apologizing and providing links for reporting incidents and providing support resources.

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