Open Letter: Firing Controversial LGBTQ Director Is An “Act of Violence”
In an open letter, hundreds of “Outraged Student Affairs Professionals” have issued demands for the resignation of a Pomona College dean and for “a carefully thought out plan for addressing White fragility and White supremacy” following the college’s decision to terminate its new LGBTQ resource center director after his tweets expressing negative sentiments toward “white gays,” “well meaning white women,” heterosexual people, and the police became the focus of national media coverage.
Following media coverage of the comments, the college announced the removal of Dr. Jonathan Higgins from his post as the director of the college’s Queer Resource Center (QRC) in an email sent to all students on Saturday. Higgins had only started work that week, just as his controversial tweets began emerging in news reports.
“I am writing today to let you know that we have reopened the national search for the Director of the Queer Resource Center,” wrote Jan Collins-Eaglin, a Pomona College dean, making no direct reference to Dr. Higgins or to the media firestorm surrounding his comments. “Our priorities for the QRC remain the same – to maintain in a seamless fashion the robust services of the Center, including its ability to provide direct support to students, expertise in workshops and trainings, and an inclusive space focused on student success and support, with a demonstrated commitment to diversity and community.”
This message, however, evidently has disappointed a group of self-described “Student Affairs Professionals.” Consisting of more than 100 student affairs employees and college students, the vast majority of whom hailing from colleges unaffiliated with the Claremont Colleges, this group has defended Higgins’s comments and decried his dismissal as a “gross injustice” and an “act of violence and silencing of queer black voices” in an open letter to Dean Collins-Eaglin and Dean Miriam Feldblum, another Pomona College dean of students.
Turning first to Higgins’s controversial tweets, the group insists that his wariness of “white gays and well meaning white women” is fully warranted:
“If history has taught us anything, we know that Dr. Higgins’ experiences and caution are valid. White gay men have become the primary enactors of violence toward queer people of color. Recently in Philadelphia, white gay men were angered because the city introduced a new pride flag with added black and brown stripes. The colors, according to the Philadelphia Office of LGBT Affairs’ More Color More Pride campaign, represent inclusion of people of color in the LGBTQ community. Dr. Mamta Motwani Accapadi has written about and presented on the ways white women have enacted violence on people of color and served to perpetuate and benefit from white supremacy.”
The letter further claims that terminating Higgins compromises inclusivity and constitutes an effort to prevent Black queer professionals from holding positions of power and challenging white supremacy.
“We would like to state in no uncertain terms that the firing of Dr. Higgins is a gross injustice and serves as an act of violence and silencing of queer black voices,” the group writes. “The firing of Dr. Higgins sets a dangerous precedent for the field of student affairs—that those who directly and unapologetically challenge white supremacy, white fragility, and the multitude of problematic aspects of higher education and the dominant culture, will simply be discarded in favor of someone who will perpetrate the status quo. We refuse to sit idly by as Dr. Higgins, and by extension, countless black and brown queer and trans students, faculty, and staff, is denied his humanity and publicly shamed.”
The group then issues five demands. In addition to demanding the resignation of Dean Feldblum for her role in Higgins’s firing, it insists that the college develop “a carefully thought out plan for addressing White fragility and White supremacy in the Claremont Colleges.” A direct quote of the full list of demands is below:
The resignation of Dr. Feldblum for the gross missteps of both firing Dr. Higgins and continuously refusing to support marginalized students. […]
A public apology to Dr. Higgins from all involved parties that acknowledges the harm done.
A fully transparent search process while searching for Dr. Higgins’ replacement to ensure that queer and trans students of color will be supported and their perspectives will be actively included and valued.
A carefully thought out plan for supporting queer and trans students of color and queer and trans faculty and staff of color. This is crucial in minimizing the suffering of queer and trans students of color that is inevitable now that their advocate has been ousted.
A carefully thought out plan for addressing White fragility and White supremacy in the Claremont Colleges.
Dean Feldblum and Pomona College’s media office have yet to respond to the Independent’s requests for comment.