VCUarts hosts dialogue session for students after profiling incident

Photo by Erin Edgerton

Sarah Elson

Contributing Writer

In response to the racial profiling incident that occurred Oct. 27, when a professor called campus security on a black colleague while she was working in a graduate lounge, VCUarts held a dialogue discussion for the Department of Painting and Printmaking Nov. 16.

Concerned students in attendance inquired about the investigation conducted by VCU Equity and Access Services into the incident, which occurred between black visiting professor Caitlin Cherry and associate professor Javier Tapia, who is Hispanic and white. Hispanic and Latino are ethnicities that encompass people of any race with Latin American heritage. Tapia did not respond to requests for comment.

The office declined to disclose any information about the results of the investigation, but said both professors were contacted and aware of the process and results.

At the forum, administrators requested students keep their thoughts and opinions honest. The choice not to disclose the results of the equity office’s investigation, however, was met with anger from the student body, with one student shouting from the audience that administrators “are asking us for transparency when y’all are offering none.”

Archana Pathak, senior faculty specialist in the Division for Inclusive Excellence and university professor, led the discussion. Art Education professor Courtnie Wolfgang took notes during the conference, while other faculty members — School of the Arts Dean Shawn Brixey, professor Holly Alford and Vice President for Inclusive Excellence Aashir Nasim — attended as well.

As soon as the discussion began, Peter Skudlarek, a sophomore in the sculpture department, asked about a discussion administration conducted with Cherry’s graduate class. Skudlarek continued to ask about the demands the graduates made and the list of issues the class presented.

The student demands include VCU publicly acknowledging the incident; the creation of a mandated training to combat systems of oppression; the addition of two full-time faculty members of color to the painting and printmaking department in fall 2020; the university recognizing that the incident is not unique and strengthening the process to file claims of discrimination.

Art students from Tapia’s class expressed concerns during the discussion.

“I don’t want to be in a classroom where my classmates are uncomfortable,” said Abby Treece, a sophomore in painting and printmaking. “I don’t want my education to be in jeopardy.”

Some students asked if special consideration would be made for those in Tapia’s class who now feel uncomfortable being around the professor due to his allegedly racist behavior. Administrators responded that they will do everything they can for students in Tapia’s class and will update the students who attended the discussion in another meeting, the date of which is to be determined.

Additionally, students created a petition that asks for Javier Tapia to be formally disciplined and for the administration to hold a campus-wide session in the spring, ensuring that the time and location is accessible to the student body and adjunct staff.

 

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