After an alleged racial profiling incident, a professor’s return is still uncertain

Francheska Alcantara lists their concerns about what they consider a lack of inclusivity and tolerance from faculty and staff toward people of color and LGBTQ students. “Number-one art school in the country, how can it be this bad?” Alcantara said. Photo by Gessler Santos-Lopez

Hannah Eason, News Editor

At a meeting with students Thursday, university officials declined to say whether an art professor who was put on administrative leave after calling security on a black colleague last year will return to VCU in the fall.

Many students pressed administrators, including President Michael Rao, for Javier Tapia’s removal by next semester. VCU’s eServices, which is used to  register for classes, currently lists Tapia as the professor for two painting and printmaking courses.

Due to a pending lawsuit between Tapia and the university, Rao said that he and other administrators cannot comment on Tapia, the October incident or any future with Tapia and the university. The lawsuit states that the university prohibited Tapia from commenting publicly on a number of topics, including the alleged racial profiling incident when he called security on Caitlin Cherry, who was seated in a faculty lounge.

“Just to have Tapia in the building is something we do not want,” said Luis Vasquez La Roche, a graduate student and coordinator of the event. “We do not want him here. We do not only want him to be reviewed, we want him to be terminated.”

Luis Vasquez La Roche and Hannah Van Buskirk of the Painting and Printmaking Coalition sit while speaking with President Michael Rao and VCUarts Dean Shawn Brixey. Photo by Gessler Santos-Lopez

For students, Tapia’s potential return is still “up in the air,” said Hannah Van Buskirk, an organizer and painting and printmaking minor.

“I’m nervous for the fall semester, to see if it will resolve itself over the summer,” Van Buskirk said.

In observance of one of the coalition’s demands, School of the Arts Dean Shawn Brixey confirmed that there would be additional art school faculty of color by next semester. Brixey added he had to be “extremely careful” when speaking on the matter because the applicants lacked board approval.

“How good do I have to be as a POC or as an LGBT member in order to be hired?” Francheska Alcantara, who attended the meeting, asked Brixey. “This education system in general is broken.”

Students raised additional concerns over the contract length for professors of color or those who are LGBTQ, saying many are adjuncts or have short-term contracts.

2016 university statistics show that around 80% of the arts school’s 170 faculty members were white. About 5% of faculty was black, while Hispanic or Latino, Asian and biracial faculty embodied about 4%. Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders made up fewer than 3% of faculty and there were no Native American professors.

Many students voiced concerns over the current faculty review system, saying it does not evaluate every professor each semester.

“There should be yearly performance reviews of all faculty and staff,” Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs Gail Hackett said at the meeting. “There will be in the future. They should be taken very seriously, and they will include assessments of performance, research and teaching students.”

The meeting was the most recent in a series of actions by students, which include sit-ins held by the PAPR Student Coalition on April 18 at the Office of the Provost and on May 1 in the Pollak Building.

During the April 18 sit-in, the PAPR Student Coalition listed its demands, including:

  • That the demographic of VCUarts professors match the diversity of the student body by 2021
  • Mandatory training that “dismantles white supremacy and other systems of oppression for current faculty, staff and new hires”
  • A template for inclusive curricula that includes people of color, LGBTQ and non-western perspectives.

The coalition also asked that an additional course evaluation and a student climate survey be conducted in the middle of each semester. Thursday’s meeting addressed these demands.

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