Pomona College Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum released an email statement this morning affirming that the college was aware of former Claremont Colleges’ Queer Resource Center (QRC) Dr. Jonathan Higgins’ controversial tweets prior to his hiring. The news raises new questions over the extent to which recent media coverage of Dr. Higgins’s questionable comments about white gays, women, and the police influenced the college’s decision to terminate him within 48 hours of his first day on the job.
Dr. Higgins’ tweets, which came to national attention last week, included comments on how “police are meant to serve and protect white supremacy” and expressed a wariness of “white gays and well meaning white women.” In other tweets, Higgins characterized heterosexuality as “celebrat[ing] rape culture, homophobia and transphobia…every day.” The tweets were published and fully public well before Higgins’ hiring in June.
This morning, only a few days following Higgins’ ouster, Dean Feldblum sent an email to all students at Pomona acknowledging that Higgins’ tweets were known to the college during the hiring process.
“The College was aware of Dr. Higgins’ tweets and social media presence prior to our offer to hire him in early June,” she wrote in the email. “We recognize that he brings an important voice to support of LGBTQIA students, and especially QTPOC [Queer Trans People of Color] students, and that he approaches his work with passion and concern.”
Feldblum also said that she and another dean had discussed with Higgins his social media presence and “the broader responsibilities of the Director position,” among which is the responsibility to “create an inclusive environment that honors the intersectionality and multiplicity of all student identities.”
These conversations and the college’s apparent knowledge of Higgins’ social media outbursts apparently did little to compromise his candidacy for the directorship. A dean of students announced his hiring in an email sent in June, praising his work as “a motivational speaker dedicated to empowering all LGBTQ students with an emphasis on students of color.”
Yet within 48 hours of Higgins’ start as QRC director, the college chose to terminate him—only hours after the tweets they had reviewed at length with their new hire came to light in national media coverage.
Neither Feldblum nor other representatives of the college have shed much light on the reasons for their sudden reversal—or why it occurred only after Higgins had officially entered his new role.
“Both prior to and after his hire, Dean Jan [Collins-Eaglin] (and later Dean Jan and I) also engaged in thoughtful discussions with Jonathan about social media and the broader responsibilities of the Director position,” Feldblum explained in her email this morning. “However, as the discussions progressed, it became clear that our visions to ensure the support of all LGBTQIA students at The Claremont Colleges did not match, and that we could not reconcile our paths.”
“These decisions were made by Dean Jan and me,” Feldblum continued, referring to Dr. Higgins’ dismissal. “The QRC staff were not responsible for the decisions.”
Feldblum email statement’s makes no mention of whether media coverage of Dr. Higgins’ tweets contributed to his dismissal.
Following Higgins’ firing, an open letter published by a group of “outraged student affairs professionals”—allegedly comprised of student affairs staff from colleges across the country—criticized Pomona’s decision to remove Higgins as “gatekeeping that keeps Black queer professionals out of key positions to create change in higher education.” The group also demanded Dean Feldblum’s resignation for her “gross missteps of both firing Dr. Higgins and continuously refusing to support marginalized students.”
Responding to these accusations in an email to the Independent, Dean Feldblum contended that she has dedicated her work to supporting all students, especially marginalized and underrepresented students.
“I have dedicated my work to supporting students, with particular attention to marginalized and underrepresented students, and am deeply committed to supporting my staff and their work,” Feldblum said. “I think these are substantive, important conversations, and I am happy to engage, listen, learn and share.”
Matthew Reade contributed reporting.